HIROSHIMA - Hiroshima Carp manager Koichi Ogata and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo each said they hoped to put on an amazing show during the final Japan Series of the Heisei Era.
More importantly, of course, they want to win.
The Carp and the Hawks took the field on a cool, overcast day at Mazda Stadium on Friday to put the finishing touches on their preparations for the 2018 Japanese Fall Classic.
“We’re thankful to be here,” Ogata said after his team’s practice.
Kudo stressed the unity of his squad, saying they were all pulling together toward the same goal.
“There can only be one top team in Japan,” Kudo said. “We’re all fighting together with that same thought in mind.”
Game 1 is Saturday night and will feature a pitching matchup between the Carp’s 15-game winner Daichi Osera and Hawks ace Kodai Senga.
“I just want to do the best I can to help my team, and hopefully pitch well so that our team can get the momentum,” Senga said.
Kudo and Ogata made their Game 1 picks known during the annual manager’s meeting (where rules for the series are discussed), and revealed they had agreed to name the next day’s starter during the series. While starters are announced during the regular season, both teams have to agree to the practice in the Japan Series.
“I’m appreciative they agreed,” Kudo said. “We do this during the season. We asked to do it this time, and the Hiroshima side didn’t have any problems.”
One change to come out of meeting is that games will only last 12 innings this year. Extra-inning games could last up to 15 frames in previous years.
Ogata’s Carp have enjoyed great success during the regular season recently, having won the past three Central League pennants, but the team hasn’t been able to carry that over to the Japan Series.
The Carp fell to the Fighters in six games in 2016 and didn’t even make it out of the CL Climax Series last season.
This year, they swept through the Yomiuri Giants in three games in the CL Climax Series Final Stage and are hoping to use that momentum against SoftBank.
“We played well during those three games just like we did during the season,” Ogata said. “We’d like to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Hopefully we can play our Carp brand of baseball.”
The Carp were one of the top teams in Japan during the regular season. The club was 82-59-2 and finished with the second-highest winning percentage in NPB. Hiroshima was also second in runs scored at 721, with Yoshihiro Maru and Seiya Suzuki, who finished with 97 and 94 RBIs respectively, leading the way.
“They have a well-balanced team,” said Hawks pitcher Rick van den Hurk. “I think our team and their team are both well balanced from starting pitching to bullpen to the lineups. Just like any other baseball game, it’s going to come down to who is going to execute the little things the best. That’s what we’re going to see.”
Things haven’t usually been easy for CL clubs at this time of year.
Pacific League teams are 8-2 in the Japan Series since 2008. SoftBank has led the way with four titles during that span, including last season.
The Hawks return to the title series this year after defeating the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the first stage of the PL Climax Series and dispatching the league-champion Seibu Lions in the final stage.
“The players all did their best during the season and that’s why we’re able to be here now,” Kudo said.
SoftBank had to go through the Lions, who had the best record in Japan at 88-53-2 just to reach the Japan Series. Now they face a Carp team that had numbers almost as good.
SoftBank wasn’t too bad itself, finishing 82-60-1.
Outfielder Yuki Yanagita, a native of Hiroshima’s Asaminami Ward, comes home as one of the key players for the Hawks. Yanagita, hit .352 with 36 home runs during the regular season and followed that up with an MVP performance in the final stage of the PL Climax Series.
“They have high-level players,” Ogata said of SoftBank. “They have great pitching and offensively, they’re good in every aspect.
“But at the same time, we don’t want to dwell on them too much. It’s going to be up to how well we play.”