Baseball / Japanese Baseball

BayStars manager Alex Ramirez makes safe choices for Central League Climax Series opener

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Alex Ramirez is going to play this one by the numbers. That goes for the lineup he’ll field against the Hanshin Tigers in the first stage of the Central League Climax Series and also his starting pitcher.

Kenta Ishida will get the call over ace Shota Imanaga for Game 1 at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday, Ramirez announced on Friday morning, acknowledging it probably wasn’t the choice most expected.

“Ishida has been the most consistent in Yokohama Stadium,” Ramirez said. “In 41 innings, he has a 3-0 record, his ERA is below 2.00 and they are only hitting a little bit over .200 against him here. So he was one of the best pitchers to start the game tomorrow.”

Ishida made just seven starts out of his 40 appearances during the regular season, posting a 2.14 ERA in 71⅓ innings. He allowed five hits in 7⅔ scoreless innings against the Tigers this year. Imanaga was 13-7 for the BayStars this season, finishing with a 2.91 ERA in 170 innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 30⅓ frames against Hanshin.

Ramirez said he began thinking about who would get ball in Game 1 after the BayStars clinched second place in the CL but before the Tigers and Hiroshima Carp and finished their race for third.

“I did a lot of research on who was the best pitcher,” Ramirez said. “I felt because of the numbers, Ishida could be the best pitcher.”

Yokohama likes its chances with Ishida toeing the rubber, but hopes to also get a boost from playing at home. While the club hosted Japan Series games in 1998 and 2017, this will be the first time the Climax Series is staged at Yokohama Stadium.

The BayStars finished the season 43-27-1 at Yokohama Stadium, the most wins by any CL team in its home park. After drawing good crowds all year, the club expects the stadium to be rocking on Saturday.

“We played an intrasquad game after the season, and there were lots of fans,” BayStars captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo said. “I really realized the importance of the fans. We won 43 games at home and without question the support of the fans gave us power.”

Hanshin, however, also had a winning record in Yokohama, going 8-4. The Tigers were 16-8-1 against the BayStars this year, winning six of their last seven meetings this season.

“I think the regular season and the Climax Series are completely different,” Tsutsugo said. “Even though we had a losing record, it’s a different thing starting tomorrow.”

The BayStars were 71-69-3 this season and posted their highest finish in the standings since winning the pennant in 1998.

“It’s been an amazing year for us,” Ramirez said. “Getting into second place, especially how we started the season, is something. We could’ve easily given up at some point, but we played very hard and kept our heads up all the way.”

Hanshin was 69-68-6 and used a season-ending six-game win streak (with one of the victories coming in Yokohama) to surge past the Carp into third place.

While the Tigers will carry momentum into the series, Ramirez said the keyword for the BayStars was “pride.”

“Because as DeNA BayStars, we won the most games at home,” Ramirez said. “So we should have pride within ourselves that we are the best team at home. So we should be able to beat the Hanshin Tigers.”