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John E. Gibson

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Series thrown for curve

by John E. Gibson (Nov 3, 2009)

The Japan Series took a somewhat unexpected turn in Game 2 when the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters sent injured ace Yu Darvish to the mound Sunday for his first game action since Sept. 20.

Despite still being hampered by a bad back, the righty went six strong innings to beat the Yomiuri Giants 4-2 and Nippon Ham now can take advantage of not being required to announce starting pitchers.

The Giants, who struggled against the offspeed-heavy Darvish, basically made it clear that 25-year-old Wirfin Obispo would be their starter for today's Game 3 as the Series shifts to Tokyo Dome tied at a game apiece.

The right-hander had a light workout on Monday with mostly reserves at the dome, which will host the next three games. Obispo was a big surprise for the Giants. In three years, he has worked his way up from the instructional league and farm team, and went 6-1 with a 2.41 ERA on the big club in the regular season.

"I feel good, I'm ready to go," Obispo told reporters. "I'm excited."

Meanwhile, the Fighters have three options for the tonight and can swamp the Giants in data as they prepare.

Keisaku Itokazu, a third-year right-hander who came up to the first team this season and was 4-5 with a 4.56 ERA, won Game 2 of the Stage 2 Climax Series against Rakuten with seven innings of one-run pitching. At Monday's workout, he was the favorite among the candidates to start tonight.

Southpaw Shugo Fujii is another possibility. The former Yakult Swallow has 53 career CL victories and is familiar with the nuances of pitching at the dome.

Also familiar with the dome is Brian Sweeney, in his third year with the Fighters.

The righty comes in with his lowest win total (five), but cut down on home runs allowed (10) and walks (52 in 118-1/3 innings).

Tomoya Yagi, a left-hander who won Game 2 in the 2006 Series title run against the Chunichi Dragons, figures to make his first appearance in the Series. He lost Game 3 of Stage 2 of the PLCS against Rakuten on Oct. 23 after allowing three runs in five innings.


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