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Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006

Woods carries big bat, winning attitude

Staff writer

SAPPORO -- Japan was just a place on a map for Tyrone Woods oh so many years ago.

News photo
Chunichi Dragons slugger Tyrone Woods aims to carry his strong regular-season performance into the Japan Series, which resumes on Tuesday at Sapporo Dome with the teams tied at one win apiece. Woods hit .310 during the regular season with 47 homers and 144 RBIs, both Central League bests, this season. KYODO PHOTO

Once built for speed, the Chunichi Dragons slugger now is a major source of power, cranking 144 RBIs and 47 home runs in his second season with Chunichi.

Batting .310 during the regular season, Woods blew away his expectations and set career-high marks in all three Triple Crown categories.

"I never thought of 47 home runs or numbers like those," he said. "Those are fairytale numbers. Every year, it is my goal to hit .300, drive in 100 runs and hit 30 home runs.

"What I did is a season in itself. Now it will be that much better if we go on to win (the) Japan Series."

Game 3 of the Japan Series will be played Tuesday night at Sapporo Dome.

After winning Game 1 at Nagoya Dome, Chunichi dropped the second game.

Woods has had mixed results thus far, but Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish and his successors pitched around Woods in Game 1.

Woods drew two walks, but he hardly saw a hittable pitch all night.

"I think I saw two or three called strikes," Woods said. "That third at-bat, I got a little antsy and swung at something away. It gets kind of frustrating not seeing strikes."

Woods struck out in his third at-bat, going 1-for-1 with the two walks in his other three plate appearances. He scored two runs and his pinch-runner added a third, making Woods potent poison in the middle of the lineup.

The only difference was that Woods scored the runs instead of driving them in.

Along with right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, Woods was a huge star atop Nippon Ham's pre-Japan Series scouting report. But what Woods saw in Game 1 went away from the Fighters' game plan, manager Trey Hillman said.

"We stayed too far away from Tyrone," Hillman said. "That doesn't mean that's what's in store today."

Nippon Ham enjoyed better results against Woods on Sunday, walking him once and retiring him on three other occasions, the final two with strikeouts.

But try doing that for the rest of the Japan Series.

With the Dragons in the hunt for their first title since 1954, Woods is doing what he was brought to Nagoya to do -- win ballgames.

"Here, they play to win," he said. "It's not like in the States, where they focus on player development. Baseball is a game where you play to win, and that is the way I approach it. Not stats, not awards 'just winning.' "

That attitude has taken Woods from his days as a prospect in the Montreal Expos organization -- where he was signed as a 17-year-old speedster -- to success in Korea and now Japan, swinging an explosive bat that has turned Woods into a 500 million yen man.

At the end of the season, Woods will have finished his two-year contract.

Woods said he would like to stay with the Dragons, and he said the team has told him it intends to keep him.

Japanese media reports have linked the Dragons with Fighters infielder Michihiro Ogasawara, who has a close relationship with Chunichi manager Hiromitsu Ochiai and will be a free agent at season's end as well.

"I can't worry about things I can't control, and the only thing I can control is putting up my numbers," Woods said. "If they do go out and get the guy, so be it. People in this league have seen my numbers, and I will play for somebody next year."

Woods himself has a good relationship with Ochiai, saying that he and the Chunichi field boss understand each other.

And Ochiai apparently appreciates Woods as well.

The usually stoic Ochiai broke form, however, when Woods hit a grand slam in the 12th inning of Chunichi's pennant-clinching victory over the Yomiuri Giants, hugging Woods in celebration of the towering shot.

"He grabbed me, embraced me, and I really didn't expect that," Woods said.

"When I was with the BayStars, our manager never got off the bench. That's just the mentality. I saw him at the top step of the dugout and I couldn't believe it."

Whether Woods is with the Dragons or another team, he stands to gain even more after his 2006 campaign. His salary would only be helped if he won the Central League MVP award.

With numbers like his, it may seem like a no-brainer, but teammate Fukudome (.350, 35, 100) will present stiff opposition.

"Whenever he and I have talked about it, we both have told each that we wanted the other to do well," Woods said. "I'm not here to break records. I'm not here for all that. I'm here to win.

"I don't care about awards, and this and that. All I care about is winning."

A standout in South Korea with the Doosan Bears before he came to Japan in 2003, Woods said wherever his baseball journey takes him next season "somewhere in Japan, most assuredly" there is one place he said it would not go.

"I don't think I would give playing in the States another chance," said Woods, who spent several years in the minors but never made it to the majors. "Like my wife always says, I didn't miss out on the MLB, the MLB missed out on me. I've shown how far I can hit the baseball, and I have had that opportunity in this country.

"There's not many guys (who) can come over here and leave saying they were big-time stars in Korea and Japan. I'm comfortable with the way things have worked out."

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