Kuwata had himself a lead in Game 5 that was downright debu—8-2 with six outs to go—but he refused to leave the game, even knowing he might have to start again in Game 7. The Giants had broken open the game in the sixth on a grand slam by Ogata, a defensive specialist who chokes up half a foot on the bat and who had seven RBIs, a .230 average and no home runs in 174 at bats during the regular season. When Giant manager Shigeo Nagashima told Kuwata he wasn't going back out for the eighth, Kuwata protested.
"I'm going to finish," he said.
"O.K., then let's do it. Go for it," Nagashima said.
So Kuwata pushed his body some more and kept talking to the baseball. "Get a ground ball for a double play," he would say to the ball, or "Get a strikeout."
"It helps me concentrate," he said. "It was like I was back in high school at Koshien [the national tournament]. I threw complete games four straight days. So I'm used to that kind of brutal pitching."
Unlike in his high school days, Kuwata this time had to pitch to Kiyohara, who rocked him for two more solo home runs in Game 5. Both were towering drives to straightaway centerfield, and they gave him four homers altogether, tying the Japan Series record. "He likes the ball high and over the middle of the plate," Kuwata said. "I challenged him there. Home run, strikeout, pop fly—it didn't matter. I got to face him. That was very exciting."
The most jarring event of the series came last Saturday, when the Lions, while gathered for a team breakfast hours before the start of Game 6, read in the newspapers that their manager, Masaaki Mori, was quitting after the series. His likely replacement would be Hiromichi Ishige, the Seibu third baseman. "Wow," said Lion infielder Mike Pagliarulo, a former major leaguer with four teams, "I thought I was back in New York with the Yankees."
Mori had led Seibu to eight Pacific League titles in nine years, but Lion owner Yoshiaki Tsutsumi found his manager and his team too colorless. When Tsutsumi and Mori, whose contract was up, met before the series started to discuss the team, Tsutsumi hesitated to give Mori a new contract, so Mori took the hint and bailed. The story leaked before Game 6, and the uninspired Lions had only seven hits off Makihara.
"You've got to put Makihara and Kuwata in the same group as guys like Greg Maddux, David Cone and Jimmy Key," said Giant outfielder Henry Cotto, another former major leaguer, who rapped three hits, including a home run, in the final game. "When they're on their game, it's going to be hard for anyone to score off them. These guys can pitch in the big leagues, believe me."
Traditionally, Makihara said, Japanese players did not think much of playing in the major leagues because "we are familiar with the system here. To go to the States is seen as a risk. And in this culture people don't like to take risks."