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MLBers draw first blood

Use longball to beat Japanese counterparts

by Dan Moscoe

Hisanori Takahashi found major league hitters tougher to get out than Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.

The rookie Yomiuri southpaw, who threw a two-hitter for the eventual champion Giants in Game 5 of the recently concluded Japan Series, was roughed up for six runs in three innings as the Major League Baseball All-Stars defeated their Japanese counterparts 8-5 Friday night at the Tokyo Dome in the opener of the All-Star Series 2000.

The biggest cheer of the night from the crowd of 41,000 came in the bottom of the ninth, when Kazuhiro Sasaki — fresh off a 37-save season with the Seattle Mariners that will likely net him American League Rookie of the Year honors — entered the game. Japan’s all-time best closer didn’t disappoint, retiring the side in order to nail down the win.

“It’s nice to be back in Japan and to get a good reception from the fans,” said Sasaki after the game.

Cleveland Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar led off the game with a towering homer to left off Takahashi — the first of four major league longballs — and the big leaguers never looked back.

In the top of the second, Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado led off with a single to right and moved to second on a single up the middle by Alomar’s older brother and Indians teammate Sandy. Jay Payton of the Mets then singled to left and Delgado was waved home. He looked sure to be dead on arrival, but Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta couldn’t handle Carp left fielder Tomoaki Kanemoto’s bouncing throw and Delgado scored to put the major leaguers up 2-0.

The Japanese All-Stars tied things up in the bottom of the frame off Minnesota Twins left-hander Eric Milton, who had struck out the side in the bottom of the first.

Yomiuri slugger Hideki Matsui, this year’s Central League and Japan Series MVP, picked up right where he left off by ripping a leadoff double to right off Milton. Dragons first baseman Takeshi Yamasaki, hitting in the DH spot, followed with a broken-bat flare to center to put runners on the corners. Furuta then walked to load the bases for CL Rookie of the Year Tatsuhiko Kinjo. Kinjo, a third baseman for the Yokohama BayStars playing shortstop, singled to left, scoring Matsui and Yamasaki. Furuta ran too far off second, however, and was caught in a run-down for the inning’s final out.

Major league manager Bobby Cox was impressed with Kinjo’s hitting and defensive work at short. “He’s not?” exclaimed Cox when told the youngster is not usually a shortstop. “Wow, he looked great!”

The MLB stars retook the lead in the top of the third, when Roberto Alomar singled and scored on a double by Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Luis Gonzalez. With one out, DH Gary Sheffield of the Dodgers blasted a Takahashi offering deep to left for a two-run shot and was followed by Delgado, whose solo blast to right upped the score to 6-2.

“I hit a back-door slider down and away,” explained Sheffield, who was named the game’s MVP. “With a runner on third, I’m trying to lift the ball. I was looking for a fastball, but I got something slower and just used my hands and hit it well.”

Hanshin Tigers righty Tetsuro Kawajiri, who fired a two-hitter in the last All-Star series of 1998, took the mound to start the fourth and held the major leaguers scoreless.

Japanese manager Shigeo Nagashima replaced Kawajiri to start the fifth, but he would’ve been better off leaving the junk-baller in.

Hard-throwing Swallows right-hander Ryota Igarashi took over, and after walking leadoff batter Gonzalez, served up a fastball right down the middle that San Francisco superstar Barry Bonds drove high into the right-field stands for a two-run dinger that put MLB up 8-2.

Igarashi was replaced by another Hanshin hurler, Minoru Kasai, and the major league stars were held off the scoreboard over the last four innings. Kasai worked two effective shutout innings, followed by two scoreless frames from Masahide Kobayashi of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The local stars made the score respectable with three runs in the sixth. Matsui led off with a walk, moved to third on a double by Yamasaki and scored on a sacrifice fly by Orix outfielder So Taguchi. Kanemoto then tripled in Yamasaki and came home on Furuta’s ground-out to third, cutting the deficit to 8-5.

Despite giving up two runs on three hits in his two innings, Milton was credited with the win, as starters are not required to go five innings in All-Star games.

Cox said the long layoff and jet lag did not hurt his team.

“We hadn’t played in a long time, but we had three excellent workouts,” noted the Atlanta Braves skipper. “Today everybody felt pretty good. If we had to play yesterday, that would have been tough, but the second day’s not bad.”

The series resumes tonight and Sunday night at the Tokyo Dome, before heading to Fukuoka for Game 4 on Tuesday.