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Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009
Ogasawara busts out but keeps poker face
Watching Game 3 of the Japan Series must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters fans.
Not only did their team lose 7-4 to fall behind 2-1 in the series, it was one of their former heroes who struck the decisive blow.
Former Fighters star Michihiro Ogasawara homered then hit a go-ahead double in Game 3 to power the Yomiuri Giants to the victory at Tokyo Dome.
Facing the team he spent most of his career with, Ogasawara is trying to keep his emotions in check as he tries to lead the Giants to the title.
"Not particularly," Ogasawara answered when asked if he had strong feelings about facing the Fighters. "I've been asked that question many times though. What I'm working on right now are things to help the Giants win. You can't bring your personal emotions into it."
Ogasawara, who played with Nippon Ham from 1997-2006, had been having a rough series (1-for-8 in the first two games) before his big performance powered the Kyojin to a victory on Tuesday.
"He's a good hitter," teammate Alex Ramirez said. "He's one of the best hitters. It's not that he's struggling, but he couldn't hit against (Yu) Darvish (Ogasawara was 0-for-4 in Game 2). I think he really wanted to hit against Darvish. But he really focused yesterday to adjust his game.
"He was feeling good and he proved it. It was his game. Of course he wants to do good against these guys."
Historically, Ogasawara hasn't fared well in the Japan Series. He batted .200 with two RBIs against the Chunichi Dragons with the Fighters in 2006 and just .217 with a solo home run for the Giants last season against the Seibu Lions.
He was batting .273 with a homer and three RBIs over the first three games against Nippon Ham.
"I wasn't really frustrated," Ogasawara said. "My attitude was to take it one at-bat, one game at a time. But it's true I couldn't contribute numbers-wise to the team in the first two games. That said, I'm pleased that I could contribute to the win."
It's ironic that Ogasawara finds himself opposing Nippon Ham, since he's a big part of the reason the Fighters have been so successful lately.
From a sports standpoint, Japan's northern island was a barren landscape prior to 2004.
That was the year the lowly Nippon Ham Fighters traded their cramped surroundings at Tokyo Dome — which they shared with the Giants — for a chance to create their own identity in Sapporo.
The stars seemed to align for the team over the first two seasons in Hokkaido as the Fighters underwent a reversal of fortunes on and off the field.
On the diamond, they began winning at an increased pace thanks to the efforts of new additions the charismatic Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Atsunori Inaba, Fernando Seguignol and draft pick Darvish, among others.
Off the field, an aggressive marketing campaign helped drive up attendance as Hokkaido eagerly embraced the team as the wins began to pile up.
Ogasawara, meanwhile, continued to take huge cuts at the plate, which earned him the nickname "Mr. Full Swing," while putting up consistently solid numbers.
The winning foundation that Ogasawara and the team built paid huge dividends in 2006, when the Fighters won their first Pacific League pennant since 1981 and first Japan Series title since 1962.
"Guts," as he is also known, batted .313 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs that season to become the team's first Pacific League MVP since 1981.
He left the team as a free agent in 2007 and won the Central League MVP award in his first year with Yomiuri.
Now, Ogasawara is a crucial component of the Giants' latest attempt to add another Japan Series triumph to their rich history.
But that pursuit leaves Ogasawara little time to sit and reminisce about his time with the team he helped turn into a winner.
"It's not that easy," Ogasawara admitted. "I'm putting all my energy toward helping us win. I want to look back at all those things when this is over."