Nashida keeps crowd guessing over starter


SAPPORO — Thanks to a Central League rule, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Masataka Nashida was able to play coy until the very end.

Everybody knew the secret he was keeping. But at the same time, nobody knew for sure. Yu Darvish was definitely going to start Game 2 of the Japan Series. Wasn’t he?

Sports daily Nikkan Sports certainly thought so and printed as much on Sunday morning. Sports Hochi feigned ignorance, another publication was sure it would be Tomoya Yagi.

A Sankei Sports scribe said he wrote Shugo Fujii would take the hill, “but was now thinking Yagi” as game time approached.

The Fighters were allowed to keep the public and the Yomiuri Giants guessing because of the Central League’s rule that managers don’t have to announce their starters until lineup cards are exchanged.

So the speculation after Game 1 that Darvish would start the second game was allowed to turn into a full-blown soap opera by Sunday afternoon.

Reporters craned their necks to see what the right-hander was doing in the field during batting practice. When Darvish-watching wasn’t in season, the press was stalking pitching coach Masato Yoshii, hanging on his every word and looking for any kind of insight.

Yoshii dropped few tidbits for the masses to devour and Nashida was equally as evasive during his meeting with the press prior to the start of the game.

“I’ve decided who will pitch,” Nashida said, responding to a question about the night’s starting pitcher. “The pitcher that gives us the best chance will go,” he said, fielding another query as smoothly as his Fighters usually take ground balls in the field.

The speculation mercifully came to an end at 5:40 p.m when the Sapporo Dome crowd erupted in delight when Darvish was announced as the starter.

The Fighters were able to take advantage of not having to announce Darvish until just before the game and got an immediate jolt of energy from the crowd, which got loud and fired up when the 23-year-old was unveiled as the starter.

The rule about starters, unlike the usage of a designated hitter, is the only one that travels to both parks, unless both managers agree to do otherwise.

The Giants, for the most part, didn’t really seem overly concerned about the Fighters’ pitching drama.

“It seems everybody is saying Darvish is going to pitch,” Giants outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei said before the game. “The newspapers, TV, everyone is talking about it. It doesn’t really matter. Whoever the pitcher is, we still have to do our best.

“I didn’t change anything about the way I prepared for this game. We’ll have a meeting and talk about everything and we will be ready.”

Reigning CL MVP Alex Ramirez didn’t see what all the fuss was about either.

“I don’t know about the other guys, it doesn’t have an effect on me,” said Ramirez. “We beat him twice. They can throw whoever they want to throw. It really doesn’t matter. He’s only pitched twice against us the last two years and we beat him twice.

“It’s probably good for the fans. They want to see him pitch. But it really doesn’t matter to me if he pitches or not. I’m still going to try to get my hits.”