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Lotte's Kiyota among early Series MVP candidates

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Lotte's Kiyota among early Series MVP candidates

by Jim Allen (Nov 1, 2010)

So who is Mr. October?

The Chiba Lotte Marines Ikuhiro Kiyota--the first rookie to homer in his Japan Series debut since Shigeo Nagashima in 1958--was asked if he was a candidate for the title.

"That's not me. That would be [teammate Toshiaki] Imae," Kiyota said after Lotte's 5-2 victory over the Chunichi Dragons in Game 1 of the Japan Series.

On a night when most of the big hits came from established postseason stars, Kiyota was the new kid on the block, singling in his first at-bat and homering in his second to tie the game 2-2 in the third inning off losing pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi.

Three batters later, Imae hammered a high pitch into center to make it 3-2 and the Marines never trailed again.

Imae, the 2005 Series MVP, went 3-for-4 with a walk, a sacrifice and the game-winning RBI, raising his career postseason average to .347 and improving to 13-for-18 in five career Series games.

"This time is different from 2005," he said. "Then I was playing with reckless abandon. This year has been full of struggles, and I've grown up in the process."

For Kiyota, however, it's all new.

The 24-year-old, the Marines' fourth draft pick a year ago, started the season on the farm, but wound up as Lotte's third rookie center fielder of this season.

Kiyota got his chance to start in the outfield on July 31 and never looked back. He batted .290 with 11 doubles, two homers and a .373 on-base percentage in 186 regular season at-bats.

Stockier and more powerfully built than your typical No. 2 hitter, Kiyota said Saturday afternoon that he was in the right place at the right time.

"I've been fortunate to be in a position to help the team," he said. "Batting second, I'm frequently asked to bunt Tsuyoshi [Nishioka] along because it seems he's always on base ahead of me."

Since the start of the postseason, Kiyota has been taking bigger swings. Although the results have not always been pretty, he has struck out in 10 of his first 39 at-bats, he has homered three times, once more than in the regular season.

Kiyota's addition gives the Marines yet another right-handed bat in a lineup stacked that way. The Marines scored 5.89 runs per nine innings against left-handed starters during the regular season, perhaps one reason Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai opted to go with Yoshimi instead of lefty Chen Wei-yin.

Whatever the reason, it didn't help. Yoshimi often missed up in the zone. Three runs in three innings made it his worst postseason outing and the only offense the Dragons could manage were solo homers from postseason standouts Kazuhiro Wada and Motonobu Tanishige.

Wada, who has played in the postseason in six of the last seven years, leads all of the players here in most offensive categories. His shot off Marines starter Yoshihisa Naruse was his 12th career postseason homer.

Tanishige, a .243 hitter over 22 regular seasons, lifted his career postseason average to .299. His homer, which put the Dragons ahead in the second, gave him 29 career postseason RBIs, one more than Wada.

"This was the way we lost a lot of games during the season," Ochiai said. "There was nothing unusual about it.

"Of course, in 2006 and 2007, the team that lost Game 1 won the Series. I've seen how the players perforn and now it's my task to use the ones who are in good form."

Although Lotte's Series appearances have been few and far between, Saturday saw the franchise win its eighth consecutive Series game, tying the record set by the Seibu Lions from 1988 to 1991, and matched by the Yomiuri Giants in 2000 and '02.

Lotte's streak began in 1974, when the Orions won the last three games to defeat the Dragons in six. The Marines' 2005 sweep over the Hanshin Tigers extended the streak to seven.

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