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Monday, Oct. 31, 2011

Lions' Fernandez lives for pressure

Staff writer

SAPPORO — Is postseason play a different brand of ball?

News photo
Jovial spirit: Led by veteran Jose Fernandez and captain Hiroyuki Nakajima, the Seibu Lions are not afraid to show emotion on the field, including after Saturday's victory. KYODO

Yes, but you don't necessarily have to have the monkey on your back.

Lions veteran Jose Fernandez said that playoff games fire him up.

"It's exciting," the Seibu Lions designated hitter said before Game 2 of the Pacific League Climax Series first stage on Sunday.

"This is what you play for. A lot of people say, 'Oh, there's a lot of pressure.' But you know what, pressure is a good thing. I always find pressure as a motivation. You concentrate more and you enjoy (it) more."

Fair enough. But he's a veteran, who has played for eight professional ballclubs, including four NPB teams, so he's gained enough wisdom to know not to get the jitters, unlike several of his Lions teammates.

Asked if he relaxes his teammates by talking to them, Fernandez shook his head, saying, "Not really."

"We have a young team, but at the same time we have guys who have experience in this type of a game," said Fernandez, who was named the outstanding player of the first stage after Game 2. He went 6-for-10 with three RBIs in the series.

"We've got (20-year-old infielder Hideto) Asamura. The kid played in Koshien (National High School Baseball Championships). There's a lot of pressure. We've got a lot of young kids but at the same time, we've got (Hiroyuki) Nakajima, who's been here for a long time and won a championship.

"Nakajima, (Takumi) Kuriyama, those guys have here, too. They're young, but they're veterans also. They've been here for a long time and been on a championship team. So it's a pretty good group of guys, who know how to win."

Fernandez was the hero in Seibu's 5-2 come-from-behind win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Game 1 of Saturday. The 36-year-old delivered an RBI single in the seventh to cut a two-run deficit to one, and connected on a two-run single in the 11th to seal the victory.

Fernandez fared well against the Fighters and at Sapporo Dome this year — although he wasn't aware of it himself.

"Really?" said Fernandez, who hit. 259 with 17 homers and 81 RBIs in the regular season.

"I didn't know. I thought it was the opposite. Maybe because I used to have a hard time here in the dome. I didn't like the stadium.

"I felt less comfortable in this dome. (But) a lot of times, you try to motivate yourself and focus more, concentrate more, I guess this year it's been one of those years you concentrate and the result is better."

Fernandez's contributions to the young Lions team isn't done only with his bat. The laid-back, cheerful Dominican helps his team create a positive air by giving his teammates high-fives and chest-bumps.

When the Lions retired the final Fighters batter to end Saturday's game, Fernandez came out of the dugout right away to welcome his team's victory, leaping his 192-cm body in the air to joyfully collide with his teammates, including captain Nakajima.

"I always do that," he said. "I always enjoy what I do. I always enjoy the game.

"You go out there and have fun. I always do that every time we win.

"Celebration jump, victory jump."

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