SAPPORO – For three consecutive games, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters kept the Hiroshima Carp within striking distance. Each time, the Pacific League champions mounted successful comeback victories, taking a 3-2 lead in the Japan Series in the process.
The runaway stars from those contests were Shohei Otani, who had a walk-off single in the 10th inning of Game 3, Brandon Laird, for a tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 4 and Haruki Nishikawa, who won Game 5 with a sayonara grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. They were each given hero interview honors after their big game.
A little further off to the side, away from the main spotlight, is where you’ll find reliever Anthony Bass, one of the pieces holding the whole thing together and a mostly unsung hero. Bass doesn’t seem too troubled by it though. In many other years he would be at home by now, not serving as one of main cogs for a team one win away from a championship.
“Watching football, sitting on the couch, enjoying the offseason,” Bass said of his normal late-October routine. “So this is fun. This is all the hard work I put in during the offseason, throughout the season, to get to this stage, the Japan Series, and a chance to do something special. So it’s a lot of fun.”
Bass has come up big for the Fighters during the postseason. He’s appeared in six of Nippon Ham’s 10 games, and has a 0.00 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.
He pitched in all three games in Sapporo, keeping the Carp scoreless for four innings in total and earning a pair of victories in relief.
“He throws hard,” said Carp slugger Brad Eldred. “He has a hard slider and everything is coming hard at you. I was just trying to be ready (when facing Bass) because he throws hard, trying to be ready to swing. I’ve had two decent at-bats off him. He’s a tough guy. All these guys they’re throwing at us are tough.”
The Carp led Japan in runs and home runs during the regular season, which makes it no small feat to hold them down, especially in the high-leverage situations Bass has entered the games in.
“You just gotta know the situation,” he said. “Whether it’s a tie game, or we’re up or down by a little bit, kind of seeing who is on base, who can run, who can’t. Notice guys who can knock in runs and notice who’s on deck; play the game. This team (the Carp) is good at producing runs. They’ve shown that, that’s the reason why they’re here, so I just make sure I make my pitches and make them hit my ball.”
Bass is in his first year in Japan. The 28-year old made 37 appearances, 14 as a starter and 23 as a reliever, during the regular season. Overall, he was 8-8 with a 3.65 ERA and six holds.
In Game 5 of the Pacific League Climax Series Final Stage, he took the ball in the second inning in relief of starter Takayuki Kato, who allowed four unearned runs, and delivered four innings of scoreless relief to earn the win.
Shohei Otani recorded the save in that contest, and Bass, who has pitched for the San Diego Padres, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, said Otani has what it takes to be a star in the majors.
“He could play at the major league level, no doubt about it,” Bass said. “He’s got the talent to compete for a Cy Young (Award). I know the talent level here and in the major leagues, there’s definitely a separation, but that stuff’s gonna play in the major leagues. It’s going to be fun to watch his career and see how it unfolds.
“He can swing it, too. It’s a different sound off the bat. I was telling some of the guys, I got a chance to play with Josh Hamilton a little bit and the sound off of his bat is very similar to Otani’s, that power. I feel like you can’t teach it, either you have it or you don’t. He’s a special talent. It’s going to be exciting to see what he decides to do in the coming years.”
As for the present, Bass might be called upon again in Game 6 on Saturday, when Nippon Ham takes the first of two chances at trying to win the title. He’s been one of the Fighters’ heroes during the Japan Series and credits some of his success to simply keeping the same approach he had during the regular season.
“Just continue what I was doing since I was put in the bullpen role permanently,” Bass said. “Just continue what I’ve been doing; throw strikes, use my defense, don’t be out there too long, don’t allow the team to get too comfortable at the plate. It’s been successful for me.”