YOKOHAMA – With the clock threatening to strike midnight on the Yokohama BayStars’ inspired run to the Japan Series, Alex Ramirez backed off.
Ramirez didn’t have any special meetings, give any particularly impassioned speeches or use different motivational tactics. With his team down 3-0 in the Japan Series against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, the second-year manager hearkened back to his own playing days, thinking about how he’d felt in similar situations. With that in mind, he figured his players already knew what they needed to do, and any extra words from their manager would be more annoying than motivating.
Two wins later, it looks like Ramirez spoke volumes by saying nothing.
The BayStars avoided a sweep with a 6-0 win in Game 4 and really got back into the series with a 5-4 victory in Game 5 on Thursday night. That earned them a trip back to Fukuoka for Game 6 on Saturday and, they hope, Game 7 the next day.
“Sometimes as a kantoku (manager), staying quiet and letting the players do the job is motivation for them,” Ramirez said. “They already know what to do. I don’t need to tell them. Basically that’s what I did. I let them play. Just go ahead, have fun, enjoy.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s part of the game. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Now we’ve got some momentum back. We just have to keep going.”
Ramirez hasn’t been overwhelmed by managing in his first Japan Series. He also hasn’t been hesitant to make moves he feels puts his team in the best position to win. He looked to coax some of the power out of his lineup in the first three games, with Takayuki Kajitani hitting second. He then switched to a more small-ball friendly lineup with Tatsuhiro Shibata, a better bunter, in the No. 2 hole, and Kajitani batting sixth, for the next two games.
Ramirez watched starter Shoichi Ino give up seven runs — six earned — in Game 1, and then called on him out of the bullpen in a tight contest in Game 3. In Game 5, he asked closer Yasuaki Yamasaki to get four outs, something Yamasaki hadn’t done all year.
Ramirez hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been deliberate. He’s managing with no fear, content with whatever result his decisions yield. Conversely, he’s said if the BayStars were to lose because of a move he wasn’t fully confident in, that is what would give him the greatest regret.
“Tomorrow is not promised,” Ramirez said after winning Game 4. “If I win, I’m going to win with my best guys. If I lose, I’m going to lose with my best guys.”
Making the decision to bring in Yamasaki to face Yuki Yanagita, one of the top hitters in Japan, with two runners on and Yokohama trying to preserve a one-run advantage in the eighth inning of Game 5, was one such move. It worked out as Yamasaki retired Yanagita and then got three more outs, though not before loading the bases, to end the game in the ninth.
“It was a situation where you couldn’t afford to let your guard down,” Yamasaki said. “Plus, it’s against a team that has made it all the way here. So they aren’t going to make it easy for you. I just tried to believe in my own pitches.”
He has the belief of his manager. All the BayStars do. They ought to believe in him as well, especially now that they stand two wins away from one of the most improbable Japan Series triumphs ever.
“The players are doing a lot better now,” Ramirez said. “They know their roles.
“Everybody knows every time Kuwahara gets on base, we have a chance. He knows that,” Ramirez added, referring to leadoff man Masayuki Kuwahara.
“(Yoshitomo) Tsutsugo, he’s the man, especially in this kind of situation. He’s going to produce. Yamasaki has done a great job as a closer the whole year, and he continues to do it. We need those guys to be able to stay focused and be able to win.”