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Goto leads Buffaloes' charge toward playoffs

by John E. Gibson (Oct 6, 2011)

Mitsutaka Goto isn't the biggest part of the head-turning run that has put his Orix Buffaloes in the middle of playoff contention, but he has played the biggest role.

The diminutive second baseman is in the middle of a career year, and the Buffaloes are on the verge of locking up the franchise's second Pacific League Climax Series appearance.

Goto--who has hit as high as .295 twice in nine previous seasons--is batting .309, thanks to his recent career-long 26-game hitting streak. His hot streak coincides with a team-wide rebound after a sluggish start that had the Buffaloes shuffling toward another dismal season.

His hitting streak, the fifth longest in PL history, was snapped on Sept. 16, but Goto hit safely in the next 11 games to help fuel a second-half push that has Orix a few wins away from not only the playoffs, but the No. 2 seed and a chance to host the first stage of the PLCS. Orix is two back of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters with 10 games left on its schedule.

The 1.75-meter, 75-kilogram Goto is peaking late in his career, doing all this at 33. Not only that, it comes in a season during which he was shifted into the cleanup spot weeks after being shipped out to the farm team.

Talk about lack of continuity.

"We had a lot of things going on at the time and [slugger Takahiro] Okada was taken out of the No. 4 hole. I had hit there in college, so I was put in the cleanup spot," Goto told The Daily Yomiuri Tuesday at Seibu Dome.

"I'd been hitting third for a while now, but I didn't want to end up batting a certain way because of my spot in the lineup.

"I just tried to simplify things for myself. For instance, if there is a runner on at second, just try to get him home. If no one's on, just try to get on base.

"And because I've kept it simple, that has allowed me to play relaxed," said Goto, who hit .389 from August through September.

Goto, by no stretch a longball hitter with 68 homers over his first nine seasons, said the move to the power spot sparked his hitting streak.

"That was about the time I was put in the No. 4 hole, and that's when I changed my attitude and approach," Goto said.

Teammate Aarom Baldiris, who also caught fire in the summer months, said he is locked in.

"Goto right now is unbelievable. Whatever he swings at he's hitting. He's hot," the Venezuelan said.

As for motivation, Goto could have pointed to his banishment to the farm on May 12 because he was hitting .200, or talked about all the hard work he has put in for his big turnaround. Instead, he credited the team's starting pitching for giving the offense the opportunity to impact the outcome of games.

"Baseball is about rhythm, that's the kind of sports it is," he explained. "And when the starters get into a rhythm, you feel good in your offensive half of innings. It gets the hitters feeling comfortable when we go up to the plate."

Pitching has been part of the improvement, but Goto and the 3-4-5 hitters have been a constant in a effort that has all the Buffaloes charging in the same direction.

"All I can say is that in the games we've won, the starters have gotten the win and the heart of the order has produced," said Orix head coach Nobuhiro Takashiro, who himself seemed to be at a loss to explain Orix's 32-19 run since Aug. 1.

"It's as simple as that. We haven't played great defense--we had a lot of errors in the first half of the season. But the team has a common goal, and that's getting to second place. We're closer to second than third."

Thanks in large part to Goto, the Buffaloes are heading toward the postseason, and that figures to make things uncomfortable for the competition.


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