FUKUOKA – One day after a win that made the Japan Series an actual, well, series, the Yokohama BayStars were back on the field in Fukuoka on Friday night.
The odds of either of those things happening after the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks opened up a 3-0 lead in the Japan Series were probably pretty low. Then again, it’s becoming harder by the day to be surprised at what Alex Ramirez’s upstart BayStars accomplish this postseason.
On the eve of a Game 6 not many saw coming, both the BayStars and Hawks practiced on Friday at Yafuoku Dome.
The Hawks, who lead the series 3-2, took the field in the afternoon for a lightly attended workout that lasted a little over an hour. The Hawks are trying to get back on track and claim the title after losing Games 4 and 5 in Yokohama.
“That’s the result of the hard work by our players,” SoftBank manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “So we have to accept it. We still have the advantage. That hasn’t changed. So we’re going to play aggressively and focus on giving our best.”
“We could have up to two games, so we only have to do our best. For now we’re focused on tomorrow’s game.”
SoftBank had a special guest on hand, with team chairman and Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh making a rare practice day appearance.
“He was just giving us some encouragement, saying ‘Let’s go do it,’ ” Kudo said.
The BayStars showed up in the evening with most of their team, minus a few relievers who were given the day off.
“I’m very happy to be back, that’s for sure,” Ramirez said. “Especially after losing the first three games. Pretty sure a lot of people didn’t expect to come back here. A lot of people didn’t think this was going to happen, but we’re back here.”
Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Yokohama has won two straight, but will be playing with their season on the line for the third straight night. While they’ve seized the momentum, Ramirez wasn’t ready to say all the pressure was on the Hawks.
“We gotta remember we played here before and we lost two games here,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they’re filled with a lot of confidence they’re gonna win here.”
In order to force a Game 7, the BayStars will have to do something they’ve failed to do this postseason: win the first game after changing venues. They lost the opening game on the road in all three rounds of the playoffs and fell to the Hawks at home in the third game of this series.
“Looking back, Hanshin Tigers, we lost the first game, ” Ramirez said. “We won after that. Hiroshima, we lost the first game. Then we came here, we lost the first two games. So this is the time where we’re coming back and we need to break the ice. We cannot lose the first game, because there isn’t going to be another day after that. We gotta make sure we stop the first-game losing streak.”
He also put the BayStars pitching staff on notice, saying Game 6 will be an all-hands-on-deck situation.
“It’s going to be do-or-die tomorrow,” Ramirez said. “For the pitchers, it’s going to be a case-by-case situation. It can be after one inning, it can be two innings, three innings. If I see any situation that is going wrong, I’m going to have to make a change.
“Tomorrow is a day we cannot think about saving the guy for the next day. Our pitchers, for these two days, they’re going to have to be ready. From the first inning, everybody is going to have to be ready.”
Kudo is ready as well.
“I know they won’t hesitate to change their pitchers,” he said. “It’s going to be up to who plays with the most patience. Which team can be patient until the end.
“It’s going to be important for us to hit early and put pressure on them. So we want to score early.”
The possible Game 7 starter for Yokohama, Joe Wieland, who took the loss in Game 3, was looking forward to the possibility of taking the mound if the BayStars make it that far.
“It would probably be the biggest game of my life,” he said. “I would have to put it above my major league debut if I got to throw Game 7. Hopefully we get there.”
Yokohama is trying to become the fourth team in NPB history to rally from a 3-0 deficit and win the Japan Series. The 1989 Yomiuri Giants are the last team to do it. Before that, the Seibu Lions achieved the feat in 1986. Kudo pitched for that team and was named series MVP, starting and winning Game 5 and recording saves in Game 6 and, because of a tie earlier in the series, Game 8.
Ramirez wasn’t ready to look that far ahead, noting his team hasn’t yet completely dug itself out of the 3-0 hole.
“I’m not going to say we overcame that situation already,” Ramirez said. “We still have one more game to go. We have to make sure we win tomorrow. After we win tomorrow, we can say we did what we could to make it to this point. But we still have at least one more game to go before we start saying we overcame that.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.