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Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006

Tasty Nagoya wrap before Sapporo feast

Staff writer

NAGOYA -- The Japan Series is knotted at ones after the opening leg of the Hinomaru-style Fall Classic, and Japan Times baseball writer Stephen Ellsesser is battling off the one-two punch of post-midnight Mexican food and the stuffy conditions at Nagoya Dome during Game 2.

Just before boarding the plane to head north for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Japan Series, Ellsesser shook some of the cobwebs and odd ends out of his notebook for a Nagoya wrap, hold the ranch.

In a sentence: Is anyone surprised that offense has not been the dominant force in this Japan Series?

Speaking of which: What the heck happened to Michihiro Ogasawara this postseason? He's 0-for-the-playoffs, going back to the second-stage Pacific League playoffs, and in first two games of the Japan Series, "Guts" is 0-for-6 since walking in his first two plate appearances.

As the PL leader in home runs and RBIs, Ogasawara has earned some junk from opposing pitchers, but the soon-to-be-free agent cannot blame his postseason goose eggs solely on teams pitching around him.

Good for the popular three-hole hitter that he has drawn six walks (including two IBBs), but phooey on his 0-for-10 performance elsewhere.

Ogasawara has scored two runs in the postseason, and Nippon Ham is going to need something a little meatier if it is going to win some hardware for the homeboys in Hokkaido.

The Gambler?: Masahiro Yamamoto, the Kenny Rogers of Japan, learned the hard way about knowing when to "fold 'em," losing Game 2 and a tidal wave of momentum that probably would have seen Dragon Blue diluted with championship gold on the road, giving up the "gyakuten" hit to Makoto Kaneko in the top of the seventh inning.

If Kaneko, who had been hitless in the Series up to that at-bat, had kept cold, Yamamoto would have checked out with a good chance to earn a victory. Instead, Nippon Ham took control.

Like Rogers, the resident age-defying lefty in the major leagues and winning pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the World Series, Yamamoto is super effective, even past age 40. Yamamoto has had some of the best individual performances of his 23-year career this season, including a pair of daggers against the Hanshin Tigers (a no-hitter and a stopper that killed Hanshin's nine-game winning streak), and he earns bonus points for having a more pleasant demeanor than the country-music crossed Tigers veteran.

Big dog's got to 8: Talk about Ogasawara, Kosuke Fukudome and anyone else in the heart of the order for either team if you must, but save the lovin' for the guys batting No. 8, Kaneko for the Fighters and Motonobu Tanishige for the Dragons.

Game 1 turned on Tanishige's two-run single, the go-ahead shot in Chunichi's 3-2 win, and the catcher has been doing his part to try to stir up something offensively in the decidedly non-offensive games, going 3-for-5 with a sacrifice.

Kaneko's slump died when he became the hero of the Fighters' 5-2 Game 2 victory, but Kaneko, Nippon Ham's players union representative, knows when not to play dead. Never doubt that.

There's power in the blood, baby, even in the lower extremities.

On deck: Tsuyoshi Shinjo's last stand at Sapporo Dome . . . Fernando Seguignol's Japan Series goatee . . . Hiromitsu Ochiai's pink towel.

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