TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – The Chiba Lotte Marines need to vanquish their season’s worth of bad memories at Seibu Dome when they seek to overcome the Seibu Lions’ home-field advantage during this weekend’s Pacific League Climax Series’ first stage as both leagues’ postseasons get under way.
An hour after the Marines and Lions square off on Saturday afternoon, the Central League action begins at Koshien Stadium, where the Hanshin Tigers will host the Hiroshima Carp, who are making their first postseason appearance since 1991.
Lotte manager Tsutomu Ito said Seibu Dome, where his club went 3-9 this season, has been nothing but trouble.
“The games are unlikely to develop here the way I expect,” Ito said Friday before the Marines practiced at the park in Saitama Prefecture. “You want your starting pitcher to go deep in the game and give you a chance to win, but we haven’t been able to do that here.”
“Most of all, we need to seize the initiative, but here, we’ve missed bunts, made bad throws. Those are the things that worry me the most. On the other hand, it’s just three games and anything can happen. That’s the interesting thing about the first stage.”
While the Lions will send right-hander Takayuki Kishi, a veteran and the MVP of the 2008 Japan Series, to the mound, the Marines are going with surprising lefty Takuya Furuya, whose last postseason experience came in middle relief in 2010.
But after struggling to make the roster in any capacity since then, Furuya became a revelation this spring as a starter. Promoted after throwing a no-hitter in the minors, Furuya retired the first 26 batters he faced in his 2013 PL debut and finished the season 9-1 with a 2.73 ERA.
“A year ago, I didn’t have the luxury of thinking I might start a game like this,” said Furuya. “I was just trying to master quality pitches. All I can do is pitch my game: throw strikes and work ahead in the count.”
Kishi finished the season 11-5 with a 3.08 ERA.
“My form is not quite where I want it to be, but I want to do a good job and justify the manager’s faith in me,” said Kishi. “If I just come out and pitch my usual game, I’ll be fine.”
The Lions clinched the PL’s second spot on the back of a season-ending, eight-game winning streak, and Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe is eager to push that streak to 10.
“We have momentum right now, so I want to win the first game, and that would give us a chance to win it in two,” Watanabe said. “It’s a short series, lose and you’re done. The idea is compete for all you’re worth and have no regrets afterward.”
At Koshien Stadium, Carp ace Kenta Maeda has been named to start on Saturday afternoon, while Tigers manager Yutaka Wada has played his cards close to his chest about who will start in this series. Maeda went 4-1 against the Tigers this season. Bryan Bullington, who was named the CL’s pitcher of the month for September, is expected to start Game 2 for Hiroshima skipper Kenjiro Nomura.
If the Lions finished the season as the hottest team in the country, the Carp were the hottest team in the CL, riding a seven-game win streak in September to seize a spot in the postseason.
The Carp and Tigers split their season series 12-12.
The winner of the Lions-Marines clash will travel to Sendai to take on the first-time PL champion Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in the second stage starting on Oct. 17, while the CL winner out of Koshien will take on the defending champion Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome starting on Oct. 16. The second-stage winners from each league will meet in the Japan Series.