YOKOHAMA – Dennis Sarfate showed up early to practice on his day off.
After recording the save in the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ thrilling 4-3 win over the Yokohama BayStars in Game 2 of the Japan Series, Sarfate and his father, who is in Japan to watch the series, flew to Kanto ahead of the rest of the Hawks on Monday. Sarfate then ended up arriving at Yokohama Stadium for practice long before the rest of his teammates.
“They told me I could have the day off, but I said no,” Sarfate said. “No way, not at this time of the year.”
Sarfate, who recorded an NPB record 54 saves during the regular season, has been itching to be involved in this Japan Series as much as possible. He’d lobbied, unsuccessfully, to get into Game 1. The team had a 10-1 lead after the fifth inning of that game, and didn’t want to risk Sarfate potentially throwing a lot of pitches.
After the Hawks’ dramatic seventh-inning rally in Game 2, he took the mound in the ninth inning to protect a one-run lead.
“I got so excited in the seventh when they said he was safe I think I might have used some adrenaline, because I got up and I had nothing and my mechanics were off,” Sarfate said, referring to Kenta Imamiya’s head-first slide to score the go-ahead run. Imamiya was initially ruled out, a call reversed after a long replay review.
Sarfate walked Toshiro Miyazaki, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. He retired the next two batters to earn the save.
Sarfate has been part of an amazing year on the field, from his own personal achievement to the Hawks winning the interleague, Pacific League and PL Climax Series crowns. The only thing that would make 2017 better would be to cap it with a Japan Series triumph.
“Just to be able to finish it off and top it off with a Japan Series victory, I think that would just be special,” he said. “Not only for the guys here who were part of it last year, when we sucked, but also with all the accomplishments guys have had. Match’s (Nobuhiro Matsuda) 200th home run and all the things guys have done, like (pitcher Tsuyoshi) Wada coming back after elbow surgery. I think it would be really good for us to put a championship up there.”
It would be even sweeter since SoftBank fell short of that goal last season.
The Hawks had an 11½-game lead over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Pacific League standings in late June last year, but squandered that advantage and finished second in the league. Then they fell to the Fighters in the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.
This year, Sarfate is hoping SoftBank can make amends.
“I think that’s going to be big for us because of what we did last year,” he said. “How we tanked it at the end and we lost to the Fighters in the (Climax Series) and how we lost first place last year when we were up so many games.
“I think this year, we just had a little chip on our shoulders. People kind of wrote us off early, with the Eagles winning as much as they were. No one really cared about us. All of a sudden, we came out and just went off.”
After beating Rakuten on the road after the All-Star break, Sarfate said he knew the Hawks would get back to the PL summit.
“I told Match and a few of the guys on the way to the airport that by the end of August we’ll be seven games up in first place,’ ” he said. “You could just see we were starting to switch. You could see the mood going. Right after the All-Star break we started moving.
SoftBank was 32-17 from August until the end of the season. The Hawks moved into first place Aug. 11, and eventually claimed the PL title by 13½ games.
The Hawks are now two wins away from another Japan Series crown. In the way is a BayStars team that is returning home and has plenty of firepower in its lineup.
“That (Masakuyuki) Kuwahara,” Sarafate said, referring to Yokohama’s talented leadoff man. “If he gets on base, the guys like (Jose) Lopez, (Takayuki) Kajitani, (Yoshitomo) Tsutsugo, they’re going to come through. I know Lopez is struggling right now, but if he gets an opportunity to come through, he has the ability to do it.”
As a former Hiroshima Carp player, Sarfate is familiar with Yokohama Stadium and its cozy dimensions, which come with the potential for trouble for opposing pitchers. He’s just not fazed by it.
“I like pitching here at this stadium in particular” he said. “I never care about the dimensions. I feel if I make my pitches, it doesn’t matter how far the walls are or how close they are. If a guy hits it good, he’s going to hit it out anywhere.
“It’s going to be exciting, I know that. The fans here are going to be loud and it’s going to be fun to be part of it.”
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