The Central League Climax Series enters uncharted waters this afternoon, when the first stage kicks off between the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium.
Game 1 will mark the first playoff meeting between the teams and the first time the Giants have had to win on the road to qualify for the Japan Series.
"This is our first time to finish third," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said after his team practiced Friday. "But from a mental standpoint, I think it's a very good thing. We are going after the first-place team."
Yomiuri catcher Shinnosuke Abe said he wanted to take the frustration of losing the pennant race and turn it against the Tigers. Aiming for a third-straight Series berth and a second straight championship, the Giants will need all the fight they can muster in the Tigers' imposing home park.
Koshien always gets loud when the Giants come to town, and no one expects less than bedlam for a series in which all tickets were sold out in just over an hour.
"It's a different experience, a totally different ballgame," Giants cleanup hitter Alex Ramirez said. "It's unbelievable, the support from the...fans."
He admitted Hanshin's home-field advantage was an obstacle, but said it could also be a source of motivation, knowing the deck was stacked against them.
Abe called the park's atmosphere "unique and special," and said the key was not to let it become a factor.
"You don't want to get caught up in what's going on in the ballpark," he said.
"The big thing is the flow of the game. If it starts going their way, it will be gone for good. When that happens, good pitches get hit and bad pitches start getting thrown."
Tigers skipper Akinobu Mayumi also predicted momentum would be key.
"I've been watching the PLCS on TV. It shows you how scary a short championship series can be," he said in a reference to the third-place Chiba Lotte Marines' current rampage through the postseason. "The team with momentum wins.
"Whatever it takes, I want to win. Not just tomorrow's game or Sunday's game. I want to take the initiative and create some impetus in winning the series.
"Because, if we don't win in Nagoya...."
The second-year skipper said the history and mystique of the Hanshin-Kyojin rivalry was not an issue.
"We've battled the Giants many times this year," he said. "We're not particularly concerned that they're our opponents. Our concern is that we attack from the start."
The Tigers have yet to win a CS stage, dropping their debut in 2007 and falling again in '08. They failed to qualify last season.
"We haven't had much success in the Climax Series. Our stance is the same it's been all season: Take it pitch by pitch, game by game," Mayumi said.
"Because we failed to reach the CS last year, this is my first experience. As much as possible, I want to develop the games our way."
Naruse good as his word
A week ago, before the Pacific League Climax Series started, Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Yoshihisa Naruse promised he would be better this postseason.
The lefty continued to make good on his promise on Thursday at Seibu Dome. Working on four days' rest after throwing seven-plus innings against the Saitama Seibu Lions, Naruse went the distance in Lotte's 3-1 win over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the second-stage opener.
Shoitsu Omatsu hit a three-run homer off Hawks southpaw Toshiya Sugiuchi, while Naruse struck out nine, walked three and surrendered four singles.
Naruse, whose only postseason loss prevented the Marines from advancing to the Japan Series in 2007, improved his career playoff record to 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA and two complete games.
The Marines, who won their last three regular season games and swept both games against Seibu last weekend, tied the best-of-seven second stage at 1-1. As league champions, the Hawks began with a one-win advantage.
Sugiuchi allowed three runs in 6-1/3 innings on six hits and five walks. The MVP of the 2003 Series fell to 1-4 with a 5.82 ERA in his playoff career.
In other baseball news:
--The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have announced that pitching coaches Masato Yoshii and Hiroshi Shibakusa and batting coach Yukio Tanaka will join the first-team staff for 2011.
Yoshii and Tanaka coached in the Eastern League this past season.