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Maeda drives CL to All-Star sweep

Hits two RBIs; Tigers trio perform for home fans

Kyodo

Tomonori Maeda drove home a pair of key runs and Hanshin Tigers players lived up to expectations from home fans, leading the Central League to a sweep of the two-game All-Star series with a 5-3 win over the Pacific League on Saturday.

News photo WIDTH="200" HEIGHT="240"/>Hanshin Tigers slugger Tomoaki Kanemoto hits a double off Softbank Hawks starter Toshiya Sugiuchi in the first inning of Saturday’s All-Star game at Koshien Stadium. All-Central won 5-3.

Hiroshima Carp outfielder Maeda hit two RBI singles on 3-for-4 hitting and the Hanshin trio of Norihiro Akahoshi, Makoto Imaoka and Tomoaki Kanemoto, who occupied the top three spots in the CL lineup, ignited a three-run bottom of the first inning off Softbank Hawks lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi.

Akahoshi hit a leadoff single up the middle, stole second and scored on a single to center by Imaoka.

Kanemoto followed with a double to right to put runners on second and third, setting up back-to-back RBI singles by Akinori Iwamura of the Yakult Swallows and Maeda, who was later named the MVP of the game played before a crowd of 45,296 at Koshien Stadium.

Sugiuchi, who leads the PL with 13 wins and a 1.85 ERA, settled down and retired the side in order in the second. He took the loss after allowing three runs on five hits with three strikeouts and no walks in two innings of work.

South Korean power hitter Lee Seung Yeop of the Lotte Marines pulled the PL within 3-2 in the fourth with a towering two-run homer into the center-field stands off Hanshin southpaw Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi after Softbank catcher Kenji Jojima had hit a leadoff double.

The CL made it 4-2 in the bottom half on Imaoka’s second RBI single of the game and added a run in the fifth after Iwamura greeted Seibu Lions lefty Kazuyuki Hoashi with a leadoff triple off the center-field fence and scored on Maeda’s third single of the night.

Yomiuri Giants left-hander Kimiyasu Kudo started the sixth and threw two innings as he became the oldest All-Star pitcher in Japanese baseball at 42 years and two months. Kudo allowed a run on a solo homer from Jojima, his former battery mate with the Daiei Hawks, in a two-inning outing.

Hiroshima right-hander Hiroki Kuroda started for the CL and worked two scoreless innings for the win. He allowed three hits while striking out two and walking none.

Hanshin fastballer Kyuji Fujikawa, who was named to the CL team via fan balloting in the category for middle relievers, pitched a perfect ninth for the save.

Veteran Yomiuri slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who hit his 13th career homer in All-Star games the previous night, failed in his attempt to match the all-time record owned by former Hiroshima outfielder Koji Yamamoto.

Pros to snub WBC

The Japanese baseball players association is still adamant that players not participate in the World Baseball Classic scheduled for March next year under the current conditions.

Association president Atsuya Furuta said after a meeting held Friday, however, that a final decision on whether to field players in the inaugural tournament will be made after talks are conducted between Japanese baseball owners and Major League Baseball.

The World Cup-style tournament is scheduled to get under way on March 3, 2006, and run until March 20, just a short time before the start of the regular season in Japan.

Furuta repeated the association’s stance opposing holding the tournament in March as it will interfere with the Japanese baseball preseason. The association is also dissatisfied with MLB’s apparent control over the tournament.

The association is requesting that Asian qualifiers for the WBC take place in March and the final round be held in July.