The last act of the 2010 season will be played out this afternoon at Tokyo Dome, where the club champions of Japan and South Korea will go at it.
The Chiba Lotte Marines, managed by first-year skipper Norifumi Nishimura, will take on the SK Wyverns, managed by Kim Sung Kun, who coached with the Marines in 2005 and 2006, when Nishimura was head coach under Bobby Valentine.
"When I left Lotte to manage in Korea, I promised Bobby Valentine that we would play Lotte in the Asian Series in 2007," said Kim. "Having spent two years at Lotte, I know about baseball played in Japan, and the baseball played in Korea as well as about the baseball played in other countries. Being with Lotte really expanded my horizons."
Kim won't be the only one on familiar ground today, as two of his key pitchers once called Tokyo Dome their home park.
With ace lefty Kim Kwang Hyun away with the national team at the Asian Games, former Yomiuri Giant Ken Kadokura is most likely to start, while another former Giant, Gary Glover may also see action.
"Last year, [when working as an analyst at the Japan Series] I said I wanted to come back here and pitch, so I'm extremely happy," Kadokura said Friday after the Wyverns practiced.
"I want people to see a pitcher who has developed over the past two seasons."
Kadokura, released by the Giants after the 2008 season, went 8-4 in 126 innings in his debut season on the Korean peninsula. This year he went 14-7 and lowered his ERA from 5.00 to 3.22 as the Wyverns ran away with the league and then swept the Korea Series in four games.
"People think the level of ball drops off from here to Korea, but when you're facing batters, you never think that. The level in many ways is quite high.
"If our ace pitcher played here, you would see how well his skills transfer to this league."
Glover said this is not the same powerhouse Wyverns team that won the Korean Baseball Organization's championship three of the past four years.
"The biggest harp that they [the Korean media] have is that SK keeps winning," said Glover, who like Kadokura is completing his second season with SK. "I've never heard anyone say anything bad about us, other than that we win too much.
"We lost Game 7 last year in the ninth inning on a walk-off homer. It was that close to [winning] four years in a row.
"We don't have our full team here. A lot of our better players are missing [because of the Asian Games]. We're missing the starting second baseman, third baseman, center fielder, catcher."
A gold medal in the Games can mean an exemption from compulsory service in South Korea's military.
"Even if some of them have done the military or have a gold medal or whatever, they still try and keep the team as strong as possible so they can help the other kids out," Glover said.
It's not just Wyverns who are absent, however. Marines first baseman Kim Tae Kyun, too, is away with the national team in Guangzhou, China.
The Marines have registered only two starting pitchers for today's game: right-handers Yuki Karakawa and Yuta Omine. But with the exception of Kim and the principle starting pitchers, the Marines are nearly at full strength.
"As it has been all year, we are not about individuals, but about fighting together as a team," Nishimura said.
Jojima out for 6 months
The Hanshin Tigers announced Friday that catcher Kenji Jojima will likely be out of action for six months after undergoing knee surgery Tuesday, meaning he will not be ready by opening day.
Jojima, who collected his eighth Golden Glove on Thursday, was examined after the season and found to have injured his left Meniscus.
In other baseball news:
--Marines closer Hiroyuki Kobayashi filed for free agency on Thursday, with the intention of seeking a major league contract.