NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. — The Hanshin Tigers and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks are playing what could be called the Japan Series of southpaws and sayonaras.
Games 1 through 4 were won by left-handed pitchers Takayuki Shinohara and Toshiya Sugiuchi for the Hawks, and Makoto Yoshino and Jeff Williams of the Tigers.
Six of the eight starters in those four games were lefties, with portsider Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi the Game 5 starter for Hanshin.
We can expect to see repeat starts or relief appearances, depending on how the series goes, from Sugiuchi and Tsuyoshi Wada for Fukuoka, and Kei Igawa and Trey Moore of the Tigers.
Ten of the 18 batters in the starting lineups in Games 3 and 4 swing from the left side of the plate, including Tomoaki Kanemoto and Atsushi Fujimoto.
Kanemoto has hit four homers in the Series, including a game-ending blast in the 10th inning of Game 4.
Fujimoto’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th caused a walkoff in Game 3. Since Daiei won Game 1 at Fukuoka in its last at bat, three of the first four Series contests ended in “sayonara” victories.
One of the great lefthanded batters in Japanese baseball history — current Tigers hitting coach Tom O’Malley — isn’t surprised his team came alive at home after dropping Games 1 and 2 at Fukuoka.
O’Malley refers to the Hanshin crowd as the “10th man” that would give the Tigers a distinct advantage. Indeed, the Koshien Stadium stands were packed with screaming, chanting, megaphone-banging, yellow-and-black-clad rooters that seemed to make up 99.5 percent of the spectators.
Prior to the start of Game 3, O’Malley had predicted Daiei would be shocked by the noise and intensity of the fans.
“They haven’t seen this,” he said, implying there is nothing like it in the Pacific League — or any league for that matter.
Hawks left fielder Pedro Valdes wears a good set of earplugs to ward off the cacophony.
Beside the crowd and the switch to Central League rule that took hot-hitting DH Julio Zuleta out of the Hawks’ lineup, O’Malley pointed to the elements as being in Hanshin’s favor.
The cool night air at Koshien, especially with a stiff wind blowing, is something the Hawks are not used to.
“In their dome, there’s a constant temperature, but you don’t know what it’s going to be like here,” said O’Malley.
The Tigers also have more familiarity with the skin infield at the home ball park. Except for a handful of games at countryside stadiums, the Hawks play their regular Pa League schedule on artificial turf or natural grass.
O’Malley cited the heroics of Kanemoto who came to the team as a free agent and had a good, but not great, year.
“Now you’re seeing the real Kanemoto,” said the coach.
The Series is so exciting it should go 4-3. We haven’t had a seven-game Japan Series in 10 years. It’s time.
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