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Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007

2007 NPB PLAYOFFS

JAPAN SERIES

Tanishige's hot bat, steady leadership spark Dragons during postseason


Staff writer

SAPPORO — More than a century of postseason baseball has taught us many things, including this somewhat conspicuous lesson: A guy who struggles in the regular season suddenly can delivered a bigger, better effort during the playoffs.

News photo
Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige, seen smacking a preseason homer in 2004, entered the Japan Series with 10 hits in 19 playoff at-bats. KYODO PHOTO

For the Chunichi Dragons, veteran catcher Motonobu Tanishige has done this in 2007.

The 37-year-old Tanishige hit just .236 — ranked last among the Central League hitters that cleared the minimum number of at-bats in the season — but has performed in the postseason as if he was reborn.

Tanishige went 10-for-19 for a .526 average with four RBIs and a home run in the Central League Climax Series against the Hanshin Tigers in the first stage and Yomiuri Giants in the second stage, helping the Dragons sweep their two foes in five total games.

"I'm just playing one game at a time," Tanishige said humbly with a smile before Game 1 of the Japan Series against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Saturday. "You never know how today's wind blows tomorrow."

Instead for the calm Tanishige, teammate Tyrone Woods gave the credit to the impregnable catcher for what he's done in October.

"He's been real good lately," said Woods, the Dragons' dependable cleanup hitter. "He's giving us a boost. Shige's got hot."

Woods said that Tanishige would repeat his performance in the opening game of last year's Japan Series, in which he drove in a go-ahead, two-run double in the second inning to help Chunichi take the contest.

"I hope he can help us out in Game 1 this year, too," Woods said.

But the hard-working Tanishige rolled up his sleeves as he came into the championship stage, where he and other Dragons seek payback for last year's Japan Series.

Tanishige thinks his main role is how he can handle his pitchers as a backstop, rather than how he does at the plate.

"It'll be tough because there are players we don't know much about," Tanishige said, referring to this year's new-look Fighters, a team with players replacing departed standouts Michihiro Ogasawa, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Hideki Okajima.

"I have to be careful when they put a runner on base."

However, asked how concretely he would oppose the Fighters batters, uncanny Tanishige would not reveal his masterful handling of the Dragons' pitching staff.

"I'll just sit behind the plate and have the pitchers throw balls that work for each batter best," Tanishige said. "(They say) if you pitch inside you're aggressive, and if you pitch outside you're wet. It's not true."

But this much is certain: Tanishige has become an October giant for the Dragons, which is a familiar sight for Japanese baseball fans.

Tanishige is making his fourth Japan Series appearance, including three with Chunichi. In his previous three championship series, Tanishige hit .293 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. He won a Japan Series title in 1998 with the Yokohama BayStars.



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