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Giants hold cards in CL showdown

by John E. Gibson (Oct 22, 2008)

A few Giant steps could get Yomiuri started on a championship run.

The club, which overcame a 13-game deficit to win back-to-back Central League titles, starts the second stage of the Climax Series today at 6 p.m. with almost everything in its favor.

The Giants have a one-game advantage in the best-of-seven format, needing to win just three of the six games at Tokyo Dome.

The Giants--who finished 27 games over .500--face the third-place Chunichi Dragons (71-68-5) after they knocked off the second-place Hanshin Tigers, who dominated the first three months of the season.

"It's true that we won the CL title, but this is entirely different," Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara said after the Giants worked out on Tuesday at the Dome.

"In a short series, you have to put it all together and prove it out there on the field. We'll do our best in that regard."

The Giants will be shorthanded in one area: catcher Shinnosuke Abe, who injured his shoulder in the title-clincher on Oct. 11, is out of the rematch of the last year's second stage of the CLCS.

"More than anyone, he's more upset by not being able to play," Yomiuri slugger Michihiro Ogasawara said. "We'll try to make up for his absence as a team."

A year ago, the Dragons pulled off a surprising three-game sweep here, and the Giants admitted 2007 is part of their motivation.

"We remember how we felt last year, and want to pay them back for that," Hara said.

The format is different this time, awarding the first-placed Giants with a one-game advantage and expanding to a best-of-seven series. In addition, Yomiuri has had 10 days to rest its players and will have its pitching set, while Chunichi has thrown three of its top hurlers and starts out the series with the second half of its rotation.

"This is our territory, so we feel better now," said Giants cleanup man Alex Ramirez, who won the Japan Series with the Yakult Swallows in 2001.

"I think it's going to be easier for us," said Ramirez, who added that Yomiuri's 10-14 record against Chunichi in the regular season is irrelevant now.

"They've been playing us good all year, but now we're playing at home and I think it's going to be a totally different thing.

"We've got three starting pitchers who are doing real good, and we've been hitting the ball good, so I think it's going to be good for us."

Chunichi admits the road to victory will be tough.

"The Giants are a stronger team than they were last year," said Chunichi slugger Tyrone Woods, who has five CLCS homers in eight games dating back to last postseason.

"That one-game advantage might turn out to be crucial."

But Woods said there is one aspect of the series that doesn't make it easy for the heavily favored Giants.

"We don't have any pressure on us," Woods said. "All the pressure is on the Giants, knowing that they finished in first last year and this year."

The one factor that slowed the Giants down in last year's CLCS was a two-week layoff. To avoid a repeat, Yomiuri played a pair of warmup games and worked out at its winter camp in Miyazaki to prepare for the series.

"It was good," Ogasawara said of the getaway, who added, "but we won't know how it affected us until tomorrow when we start playing."

Dragons skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai last year pulled a fast one on the Giants, surprising them with Takeshi Ogasawara as the Game 1 starter. The move sent Yomiuri scrambling and the Giants looked off-balance, losing the opener and never recovering.

The key for the Dragons this time, Woods said, is another first-game victory.

"I feel whoever gets off to a good start is going to win the series. If we can erase that one-game advantage, I feel we can win."


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