After Sunday's miraculous reappearance of Yu Darvish on the mound for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Game 2 of the Japan Series in Sapporo, predicting pitching matchups has taken on a life of its own.
At an off-day practice Monday at Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri Giants right-hander Wirfin Obispo had a huge media contingent following his every move--from warming up his arm in the outfield to taking some bunting practice in the cage.
Obispo is expected--a key word these days--to start Game 3 for the Giants in Tokyo tonight as the best-of-seven series resumes tied at a game apiece.
While the Pacific League clubs usually announce their starters ahead of time, the Japan Series is being played under the Central League rule that dictates that managers don't have to reveal their starting pitchers until they exchange lineup cards just before game time.
Hence all the confusion over who would be starting for the Fighters on Sunday in Hokkaido. Even Nippon-Ham manager Masataka Nashida said after that game he "wasn't sure if the starter was going to be Darvish or Brian Sweeney, but Darvish kept telling me he wanted to pitch so I gave him the ball."
And Darvish delivered six solid innings in the 4-2 Hammies win, despite not having started the previous 40-plus days due to a back injury.
Obispo, who was 6-1 in seven starts this season with a 2.45 ERA, got the win in Game 2 of the CL Climax Series, a 6-4 victory over the Chunichi Dragons in which Obispo gave up two runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four in that game.
On Monday, the laid-back Dominican said he was ready to go.
"Everything is all right, I'm very relaxed, no problems," Obispo said in Spanish. "I just want to keep it close and wait for our hitters to score some runs. I just plan on pitching like I did during the season."
Obispo said the Fighter that he is most concerned about is slugger Atsunori Inaba, a veteran left-handed batter who hit .300 this season with 17 HRs and 85 RBIs. On Sunday, Inaba slammed a solo homer as he went 2-for-4 at the dish.
"I think he's their most dangerous hitter," Obispo said. "I know Inaba has been good for many years and he proved it in the first two games of this series. I have to be careful with him, but I certainly don't have any fear in facing him."
As for who will get the start for Nippon-Ham, that is a tougher one to call. Sweeney could get the nod, or perhaps another right-hander, Keisaku Itokazu, will be the man. Lefties Shugo Fujii and Tomoya Yagi are also available for Nashida's club.
"I'm always ready to go," Sweeney said Monday. "Start, relief, whatever we need."
One thing we do know for sure--it won't be Darvish.
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In other Japan Series news, former U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to be at Tokyo Dome tonight for a pre-game ceremony, perhaps throwing out the first pitch--or maybe the first shoe. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos and legendary home-run king Sadaharu Oh are also expected to be in attendance.
U.S. Secret Service types have been spotted casing the Dome over the past few days.