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Rob Smaal

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Rookies come through in the clutch

by Rob Smaal (Nov 5, 2010)

Forget about the big-game jitters for these guys.

So far in the 2010 Japan Series, a couple of rookies have been coming through in the clutch for their respective clubs.

On Tuesday, first-year Lotte outfielder Ikuhiro Kiyota provided the big blow for his team, a three-run fourth-inning triple as the Marines took Game 3, 7-1.

The following night, it was rookie Yohei Oshima's turn to shine for the Dragons, his 11th-inning RBI triple giving Chunichi a 4-3 win to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

The similarities between the two players don't end with their ability to come up with big hits in prime time. The two 24-year-old rookie outfielders have taken very similar routes to the Japanese big leagues.

"I'm not really conscious of having a rivalry with him (Oshima), per se," Kiyota, a fourth-round draft pick in 2009, said prior to Game 5 on Thursday. "But we are the same age, we both played in the same league in college, and we both came through the corporate league to get here. He was a great player and I always wanted to keep pace with him."

In 2010, Kiyota appeared in 64 games for Lotte, posting a .290 average with 11 doubles and two home runs. Through Wednesday's Game 4, he is hitting .333 in his first Japan Series and he has already equaled his regular-season home run total with two this postseason--one against the Softbank Hawks in the PLCS and the other in the Marines' 5-2 win in Nagoya in the Japan Series opener. That roundtripper against Chunichi made Kiyota the first rookie to homer in his Japan Series debut since Yomiuri Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima accomplished the feat in 1958.

Oshima, who was selected in the fifth round last year by Chunichi, was also hitting .333 in his first Japan Series entering play Thursday, just like Kiyota. Dragons skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai wasn't afraid to give his rookie outfielder plenty of playing time in 2010, a season in which he hit .258 with no home runs in 104 games.

"He may be a rookie but he played corporate baseball so we used him a lot this season," said Ochiai, alluding to the fact that Oshima, who turns 25 next week, is no pimply-faced kid fresh out of high school.

Oshima said he was more nervous hitting leadoff on Opening Day this year than taking his cuts in the Japan Series.

"I had a lot of unpleasant thoughts going through my head (on Opening Day)," recalled Oshima, who went 0-for-4 that day in a 3-1 loss to the Hiroshima Carp. "I kept thinking, 'What happens if I don't get a hit?'"

He didn't on that day, but Ochiai stuck with him.

Both Kiyota and Oshima are taking their first Japan Series in stride, keeping an even keel.

"After I got my first hit, I settled down and got some momentum going," said Oshima. "Now, I just take each game as it comes.

"Yesterday was yesterday and today is today," he said Thursday. "I'll approach each at-bat the same way. It doesn't matter what I did yesterday."

Kiyota concurred.

"I'm just trying to do what I do every day in practice," he said. "Just stick to good fundamentals."


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