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Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006

Fan support key to Fighters' success during 2006 season


Staff writer

SAPPORO -- If they didn't appreciate their fans' unbridled support, the Chunichi Dragons might not have realized how much they can give their team a boost forward -- before Tuesday's game, that is.

News photo
Hokkaido fans cheer for the Fighters during Game 4 of the Japan Series on Wednesday at Sapporo Dome. KYODO PHOTO

Shortstop Hirokazu Ibata said that he has not particularly felt pressure by playing in the Japan Series, adding Chunichi is only playing its "normal" game even in the Japan Series.

It may be a case of sour grapes for Ibata and the Dragons, who dropped two straight games after taking the first game of the series.

In Game 3 of the series on Tuesday, the Fighters were impressive, winning the first Japan Series game ever played on the island of Hokkaido.

It was a depressing game for the Dragons.

With the Fighters up 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning and runners on first and second, Atsunori Inaba smacked the first pitch into center-field stands to lock up the win.

"They've got real hot fans over here," Chunichi outfielder Kazuki Inoue said before Game 4 on Wednesday. "We were overwhelmed by them yesterday, frankly speaking. I was just like, 'Wow,' out there."

When Inaba moved into the batter's box, the 41,798 fans in jam-packed Sapporo Dome looked like they were about to erupt while standing in the bleachers and rooting for him while simultaneously putting pressure on Chunichi reliever Atsushi Nakazato.

"I think you are not allowed to make a human wave (at a baseball game), and it was sort of a wave," Inoue joked. "I was losing (my) sense of depth perception. So I felt like, maybe I should leap, too."

Meanwhile, the warm, but manic Hokkaido fans' support is making the Fighter players more comfortable and brave than at any other ballpark.

"We don't have any nerves or nothing like that right now," said Inaba, who drove in the winning run in Game 2 of the Pacific League Stage 2 playoffs against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. "Rather, we're playing being more relaxed."



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