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Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010

Familiar pain fuels Ochiai's desire


Staff writer

NAGOYA — Immediately after the final out of the 2010 Japan Series, Chunichi Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai made a short, brisk walk to the Dragons clubhouse.

News photo
Not good enough: Hiromitsu Ochiai wasn't able to guide the Chunichi Dragons to another Japan Series crown. KYODO PHOTO

For Ochiai, there was no need to watch the other team celebrate. It's a sight that's become all too familiar as it is. Because for the third time in six years, Ochiai's Dragons were on the losing end of the Japanese Fall Classic.

This time it was a gritty Chiba Lotte Marines squad that stopped the Dragons from becoming the NPB's top team.

"I'm not going to blame anyone," Ochiai said. "I think we fought hard during the year. This is a win or lose business and we regret having lost. That's the same feeling 11 clubs have. We won the Central League but didn't have enough to win at this stage.

"But in this business, no one but the manager should be blamed."

Ochiai returned for the postgame ceremony, standing with his team in front of the Chunichi dugout, watching as the Marines and his former teammate, Lotte skipper Norifumi Nishimura, were presented with the spoils of their victory.

"I was only doing my best," Nishimura said of besting Ochiai. "He's such a great man."

If there's one decision Ochiai may look back on over the winter, it might be his call to squeeze another inning out of reliever Takuya Asao in Game 7.

With the score knotted at 7-7, Asao had tossed three innings of scoreless relief when Ochiai sent him to the hill for a fourth. Asao walked Toshiaki Imae to begin the 12th inning and eventually yielded a go-ahead RBI triple to Yoshifumi Okada.

The bullpen was supposed to be the area where the Dragons held the most dominance over the Marines, but it was ultimately their undoing. Chunichi's offense also struggled during the series.

The Dragons' strong pitching staff ended the series with a 4.25 team ERA while the Marines' hurlers had a 3.45 ERA. Similarly Chunichi's batters hit .257 to Lotte's .281.

"All of us feel some shame," Ochiai said. "So we are going to work hard to come up with better results. We have a lot of issues we need to work on. We have to resolve them one by one."

Ochiai has enjoyed a lot of success since becoming the Dragons' manger in 2004, going 548-432-20 and winning three CL pennants.

His record hasn't usually counted for much in the Japan Series, where Chunichi has won just one title in four trips.

And this edition was more of the same for the CL power.

On paper the Dragons were the better all-around team, but that meant little as the Marines were the ones celebrating Sunday night.

"That they never let us think they were a strong team may have been their strength," Ochiai mused after Game 7. "It's rare that a team can show its strength without letting its opponent think it is strong."

As for his own team, Ochiai had kind words for his players in defeat.

"We entered this year with some issues," he said. "So I give credit to the players for having made it this far. I think the players should be praised. We just didn't have the ability to overpower our opponents."



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