FUKUOKA – “Winning is everything” is a cliche you often hear from players and coaches in postseason baseball.
But Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks star player Seiichi Uchikawa is a strong believer in that familiar line.
Although the Pacific League champion Hawks tamed the Yokohama BayStars 10-1 in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday, Uchikawa was hitless with a strikeout and wound up being the only man in the starting lineup to fail to get on base.
But the cleanup hitter did not give that fact even a second’s thought.
“Whether I come up with a hit or not, winning is everything,” Uchikawa said after the game.
“Isn’t that right? If I hit, of course I’m happy. But you have to be happy just with the fact that your team wins. There’s nothing more you need to ask for.”
Uchikawa, a career .310 hitter, also said that just because he did not contribute with his bat in the Japan Series opener, he would not change his approach at the plate for the remainder of the best-of-seven series.
And it doesn’t matter that he’s facing Central League pitchers, who he doesn’t often face during the season.
“I just don’t see the necessity in changing anything,” the Oita Prefecture native said.
At the end of the day, any story line other than winning the NPB championship is a distraction for Uchikawa.
One day before the Series began, Uchikawa, who played for Yokohama for a decade before his arrival at SoftBank six years ago, even described any extra thought toward his ex-club as “an interruption.”
Uchikawa missed two months due to a chip fracture on his left hand from late July and played in just 73 games in the season.
But the long layoff has not affected his performances. He racked up four homers and seven RBIs and was named MVP of the Climax Series Final Stage against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
According to reports, he used the MVP prize of ¥1 million to hold a dinner party for the team before the Japanese Fall Classic.
Meanwhile, as important as Uchikawa’s return from injury was for the Hawks, Yuki Yanagita’s comeback has been just as big.
The Kyushu team ended up crushing the BayStars, but Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo gave credit to Yanagita for coming up with a lead-off single right after the play-ball call. He said it successfully removed his teammates’ series-opening jitters.
“The hit by Yanagita made it possible for other players to play as well as they normally do,” Kudo said after Game 1. “Anyone gets nervous playing in the Japan Series.”
Alfredo Despaigne drove Yanagita home with an RBI double to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the inning.
In response to his skipper’s praise, Yanagita humbly said that his hit just “dropped at a favorable spot” in the outfield, but was glad it provided his team with the chance to score the run.
The hard-swinging left-handed hitter was sidelined from late September because he hurt his right side. He was originally expected to miss the entire Climax Series Final Stage, but returned for the final and fifth game. Kudo has put him in the lead-off spot ever since.
“I don’t care which hole I’m hitting in,” smiled Yanagita, who hit in the third spot for the majority of the season. “Well, being the lead-off, you have more at-bats, so that makes your job a little harder.”
Yanagita also hit in the cleanup spot when Uchikawa was absent through injury.
When asked about the current condition of his body, Yanagita responded by saying he can “swing as hard” as he can.
The 29-year-old said that it is fun to be on the field on the biggest stage of Japanese baseball.
“I’m enjoying the moment,” the 2015 PL MVP said. “It’s much more fun than just rehabbing at Chikugo (at the team’s farm facility in Fukuoka Prefecture).”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.