Fighters’ Takeda doesn’t back down from pressure


Staff Writer

On Sunday night, Masaru Takeda was the last man standing for the Fighters in their 1-0 loss to the Yomiuri Giants.

The southpaw had a magnificent performance in a hostile atmosphere at Tokyo Dome.

Unfortunately, he got an “L” instead of a “W.”

However, what he showed in Game 2 of the Japan Series was the performance of a winner, not a loser.

The only costly mistake Takeda made on the night was a gopher slider tossed to Yomiuri leadoff man Hisayoshi Chono in the bottom of the first inning. Chono smacked it over the fence for a solo shot, and it ended up being the game-winning run.

After the game, Takeda, who went 11-7 with a 2.36 ERA in the regular season, was encircled by a large crowd of reporters, as if the pitcher delivered a win.

“I think I was able to put up my own pitching,” said Takeda, who allowed only four hits in six innings, after the game.

The 34-year-old Takeda, who doesn’t have a blazing fastball, aggressively attacked the inside portion of the strike zone with his fastball and slider, while he effectively used changeups outside to keep opposing hitters off-balance. Takeda, who had 10 strikeouts, notched his third double-digit-K game in his seven-year career (first time this year).

The highlight came in the sixth. Takeda allowed a leadoff double to Giants pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, but escaped the threat by fanning the next three hitters.

At the end of the day, Takeda wasn’t cowered by the formidable Giants bats throughout the night.

“I tried to not be so scared and pitch inside with an image to make them hit somewhere else other than the sweet spots of their bats,” said Takeda, who is now 1-4 in the Japan Series.

“Hopefully, it gave some ideas on how to pitch (against the Giants batters) to our other pitchers (for the reminder of the series).”

The Fighters entered the year without Darvish, and quickly lost Bobby Keppel, who won 14 games last season, in April.

A young Mitsuo Yoshikawa showed unexpected growth by winning a team-high 14 games in 2012, but it was still veteran Takeda who carried the pressure and responsibility for the two men.

Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama didn’t designate Takeda as the starter for the season-opening game and Climax Series opener. That was because the skipper wanted Takeda to be the stabilizer of the pitching corps, meaning he would be the one to stop a bad flow in case the team dropped those first games.

“I’ve always given (Takeda) tough tasks, and I feel sorry for that every time,” Kuriyama said during the Climax Series final stage against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

The last time the Fighters advanced to the Japan Series in 2009, when they faced the Giants like this time, Takeda happened to be the Pacific League club’s main hurler, because Darvish had hurt his hip (he pitched in Game 2). Takeda started in Games 1 and 6 and took two losses, but did a steady job both times to give his team a chance to win.

“Compared with the past (Japan) Series, I think I was able to give my own pitching and we still have much to play this series, so if I have another opportunity to be on the mound, I want to continue to be aggressive,” Takeda said.