Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Kajitani, BayStars remain positive as series resumes in Yokohama

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Despite his team getting off to an 0-2 start in the ongoing Japan Series, Yokohama BayStars outfielder Takayuki Kajitani held his head up high as the series resumed at Yokohama Stadium for Tuesday’s Game 3.

In Sunday’s Game 2 at Yafuoku Dome, Yokohama lost 4-3 to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, falling for the second consecutive night. But Kajitani ignited the BayStars offense and made the contest as close as it was with his bat.

The BayStars were silenced by Hawks starting pitcher Nao Higashihama through the first five innings. But Kajitani bashed a high inside fastball off the right-hander into the stands just inside the foul pole for a solo homer to tie the game in the sixth.

The dinger gave the BayStars some momentum. Three hitters later, Toshiro Miyazaki belted a two-run homer to put the Central League club ahead 3-1.

Kajitani said that the Hawks probably knew the hitter had had tough times against inside pitches. But in that particular at-bat, the 29-year-old made near-perfect contact with the ball.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking for an inside pitch, and I wasn’t intending to hit a home run,” Kajitani said before Game 3. “But I could react to it pretty well, spinning my body.”

Having come back home, Kajitani hoped that the BayStars fans in the stands would boost the team and help it score more runs.

The BayStars racked up just four combined runs in Games 1 and 2.

“We’ve received unbelievable support from our fans all year,” said Kajitani, who hit .243 with 21 homers and 60 RBIs this season. “So we would definitely like to get back (at the Hawks) here at home.”

Actually, Kajitani said that he likes to play on the road better than at home because visiting teams can practice closer to game time. Home teams hold practice before visiting teams and have some waiting time before games.

“I prefer the time flow for a visiting team,” he said. “Because you can get in the game on the flow (from the practice).”

Meanwhile, Kajitani emphasized that it would be vital for the BayStars to play their “own brand of ball” to beat the Hawks.

“If we do that, we can give ourselves a better chance to win,” he said.

Pitching on an unfamiliar mound? No problem

Veteran southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada will likely start Wednesday’s Game 4 for the Hawks.

It would be the first time for him to stand on the unfamiliar mound in Yokohama in 11 years. But the ex-major leaguer does not have too much anxiety.

Usually playing at a dome stadium, the weather could be a concern for the Hawks players as well. In fact, during the travel and practice day on Monday, strong winds hit Yokohama Stadium and lowered the temperature.

But the forecast indicates that the teams would look to be able to play in mild weather in Game 4. Wada, 36, certainly welcomed it.

“Yesterday was pretty cold,” the former Chicago Cub said on Tuesday. “But it’s not too bad today and tomorrow should be even better.”

Yet Wada tried to not be too optimistic about facing the BayStars hitters.

“They have good hitters, both righties and lefties,” Wada said. “What’s important for me will be to not have runners on bases before the core hitters of their lineup.”

Anything can happen

SoftBank manager Kimiyasu Kudo knows one single win could shift momentum from one team to the other in the postseason based on his own experiences as a player.

So he and the Hawks have no intention of letting their guard down.

The 1986 Japanese Fall Classic is one of the most talked-about series ever, and Kudo contributed greatly for the Seibu Lions en route to their championship.

After a 2-2 tie in Game 1, the Lions dropped three games in a row against the Hiroshima Carp. Kudo was the Game 2 losing pitcher.

But in Game 5 at Seibu Stadium (now called MetLife Dome, but there was no roof then), the left-handed pitcher single-handedly brought momentum back to Seibu.

He relieved starting pitcher Osamu Higashio from the 10th inning and had a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 12th to save the Lions from being eliminated (it was the last Japan Series that did not include the designated hitter).

Kudo, a 224-game winner who was a part of 11 Japan Series championship teams as a player for Seibu, the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Yomiuri Giants, had a 1-1 record with two saves in the series and was named the series MVP.

“We are relieved because we’ve secured the right to at least come home and clinch the championship there (in either Game 6 or 7 at Yafuoku Dome),” Kudo said on Monday. “Even if we finish it here (in Yokohama), it’s still a pleasant thing for our players.

“But you’ve got to bear in mind: once you lose one game in a series, it could give your opponent the momentum. I’ve been involved in a case like that (in the 1986 series). We came back to win four in a row after we got beaten three games in a row.”