SAPPORO – You could call it a coincidence, but going into Game 3 of the Japan Series on Tuesday there was a chance something uncanny could happen in baseball on both sides of the Pacific.
Both the Giants of the United States and Japan had the opportunity to win their respective championships in exactly the same fashion; teams with their backs against the wall managing to come back and clinch their championship series before sweeping rusty opponents once they got there.
The San Francisco Giants became World Series champions with a 4-0 sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, after having come back from a 1-3 deficit to clinch a World Series berth in the National League Championship against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Likewise, the Giants of Yomiuri were down 1-3 (The Central League champions had a one-win advantage) before rallying back to take the last three games to reach the Japan Series.
The Japanese Giants got off to a 2-0 start against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Series, giving them a chance to duplicate the American Giants’ feat.
There was also a similarity in their championship series opponents, both rusty after finishing up their previous rounds in sweeps.
“It’s crazy,” said Yomiuri’s John Bowker, who has also played for San Francisco, before Game 3 of the Japan Series at Sapporo Dome. “It’s weird how the series are running parallel to each other.
“We were down the way (the San Francisco Giants) were down. The Fighters swept the way the (Detroit) Tigers did. They were sitting around.”
10th man: The Fighters came home to Sapporo after dropping the first two games in the Japan Series. But they entered the third game on Tuesday with their heads up as they prepared to feel the enthusiastic support of their fans.
“We’ve been able to win because of the fans,” Nippon Ham third baseman Eiichi Koyano said. “We don’t have any doubts that we’ll be able to win once we get together and fight along with the fans at the stadium and the people in Hokkaido.”
The Fighters had an average home attendance of 25,813 during the season, the second best number in the Pacific League behind the Hawks (33,993).
Just checking: Nippon Ham advanced to the Japan Series missing some core players due to injuries. One of them is captain Kensuke Tanaka, who suffered a broken left elbow in late August.
The injury was once thought to be season-ending, but the second baseman improved and has begun practicing lately. He was put on Nippon Ham’s 40-man roster for the Japan Series.
But realistically, it’s unlikely that Tanaka will take the field in this series. Knowing that, Fighters skipper Hideki Kuriyama said before Game 3, “I asked Kensuke if he could play today. He said he can’t.”
Kuriyama was joking. Well, maybe not so much.
“I asked just in case, because you never know. Maybe he might have made a surprising improvement.”
A superstar’s homecoming: Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish was a guest color commentator for TV Asahi for Game 3.
As he arrived in the booth before the game, a large number of fans crowded round and aimed their cameras and cellphones to take a picture of the ex-Fighters ace pitcher.
Sitting alongside former great Kimiyasu Kudo, Darvish gave some analysis, especially of his former team, Nippon Ham.
“He’s had a lot of good days and bad days,” Darvish said of Fighters cleanup hitter, Sho Nakata, whom Darvish was hard on when they played together. “But he kept playing no matter what. I think he’s grown a lot.”
Staff writer Jason Coskrey contributed to this story.