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Sunday, March 19, 2006

WBC experience has Tamura thinking big


Staff writer

SAN DIEGO -- Hitoshi Tamura is not only a growing slugger in Japan, but he's also drawing attention on the World (Baseball Classic) stage.

"I've come to think that I may be able to play over here," said Tamura, who has started every game in the World Baseball Classic for Team Japan.

Tamura, who has batting third in four games of the six WBC games, has given some power to Sadaharu Oh's squad, hitting .250, with two home runs and six RBIs.

But Tamura, an outfielder for the Yokohama BayStars, was mourning after a 4-3 loss to the U.S. last weekend.

With the game tied 3-3 in the top of the ninth inning, and the bases loaded and two outs, Tamura stepped up to the plate. He struck out swinging at an inside breaking ball that the Houston Astros' Brad Lidge threw, failing to score the tying or possible go-ahead runs.

The United States scored the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth when Alex Rodriguez singled to center.

"I had read data (on the U.S. pitchers) previously, and I thought he (Lidge) was going to throw an outside fastball. I relied on the data too much," Tamura said. "People may think that's why I swung at that bad ball, but when you actually stand in the batter's box, it looks different."

But he couldn't forget the at-bat, that could have made him a national hero.

"I couldn't sleep," Tamura said.

Off the field, he keeps a low profile. It may be the reason he has not really been conspicuous, although he notched great numbers the past two seasons.

Tamura hit .305, 40 homers and 100 RBIs in 2004 for the Yokohama BayStars, then batted .304 with 31 homers and 79 RBIs last year.

Oh's expectations for Tamura are high, and Tamura lived up to them in the first round of the tournament. He hit in the No. 5 spot in all the games and got on base nine times in 14 at-bats (.643 on-base percentage). He went 3-for-8 (.375).

Instead of shifting the struggling Kosuke Fukudome, Oh moved Tamura to the No. 3 spot in the lineup as the team traveled to Arizona to play three exhibitions before Round 2 in Anaheim.

In the third exhibition against the Milwaukee Brewers in Phoenix, Tamura went 3-for-4 with a solo blast.

Reportedly, Brewers manager Ned Yost became interested in Tamura's ability. Tamura was pleased and smiled when he heard about it.

So now, his motivation level is higher than ever as he finally gets a chance to show what he can do.



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