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Inaba embraces playoff pressure


SAPPORO — Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Atsunori Inaba wrapped up his workout and came back to the dugout with a crisp smile on his face, just like he’s done all year.

News photoFighters outfielder Atsunori Inaba led the Pacific League with a .334 batting average this season. He has
won four Japan Series titles, the first three of which he earned while playing for the Swallows.

For the 35-year-old veteran, even the championship stage is only another game and he just tries to go out there, looking for some fun.

“We’ve got no nerves or no anything,” Inaba said Friday after his team’s final workout before the Japan Series, which begins on Saturday. “We’re just going to go out there with the same mind-set as we had in the Climax Series (against the Chiba Lotte Marines) and looking forward to the series now.”

Inaba’s got enough history to be able to be that laid back.

This is his fifth appearance in the Japan Series.

In his last four series, his teams grabbed the champion flag in their hands in the end (he won titles with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 1995, ’97, 2001 and with Nippon Ham last year), and each time Inaba’s clubs concluded the series in five games.

Inaba was selected the Japan Series MVP as he drove in seven runs in the games against Chunichi.

But he doesn’t make light of the Dragons, Nippon Ham’s opponent and the club that it defeated in last year’s Series. Instead, he anticipated it will be a rocky series this time around.

“We watched their Central League Climax Series against the (Yomiuri) Giants, though, we felt that their (Dragons) pitching staff is pretty good,” Inaba said. “They could give us struggles to score runs.

“Chunichi is a similar team to us, and it’ll be a tough series.”

However, Inaba, who won the Pacific League batting title with a .334 average this season, explained that the Fighters will just play the ballgame that they’ve played all year.

“What we want to do is, we field good, giving up as few runs as possible, and then get some rhythm for the offensive side,” Inaba said.

As the Fighters had lost ’06 Pacific League MVP Michihiro Ogasawara and flashy star Tsuyoshi Shinjo before this season, Inaba may face even more stress in this series.

But the dependable Inaba has the capability to convert the negative power into positive energy. If he succeeds in doing it, he will be the man again, bringing another championship title to the northern club.

“Like I always say, I’d like to play my best, turning the pressure into joy,” Inaba said with a grin.