Central League captures opener

by Stephen Ellsesser

Kyuji Fujikawa couldn’t even get a save for his birthday.

Hanshin’s Fujikawa struck out two on his 26th birthday, setting up BayStars flamethrower Marc Kroon to get the save as the Central League beat the Pacific League 3-1 in the first game of the Sanyo All-Star Series on Friday at Jingu Stadium.

News photo
Yomiuri’s Lee Seung Yeop hits a run-scoring double off Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Seibu
Lions to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second inning of Game 1 of the All-Star
Series at Jingu Stadium on Friday. The Central League won 3-1.

Fujikawa, whose ERA was a miniscule 0.18 when he was voted to the CL All-Star roster, did not hit below 150 kph on the radar gun. Spurred by a CL cheering section that sang “Happy Birthday” as he took the mound, Fujikawa struck out Alex Cabrera and Michihiro Ogasawara, putting PL hopes of a comeback on the rocks.

Kroon came in to face Tomoya Satozaki who homered in the second inning for the Pa League’s only run and threw just one pitch to the catcher, a 159-kph fastball Satozaki knocked into center field for a base hit.

Kroon got back to business right away, striking out Jose Fernandez to earn the save.

“Their last two pitchers were very good,” PL manager Bobby Valentine said. “They threw hard, they threw strikes and they were very aggressive.”

Norichika Aoki hit a solo home run in the third inning off Masato Yoshii, which put the CL ahead for good. Aoki also made several stellar catches in center field, and he was named MVP of the All-Star game.

Aoki, enjoying a game played on his Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ home field, started the game in right field, but he switched to center after the fifth inning.

News photoNippon Ham Fighters outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo shows off his scrolling light belt buckle and multicolored
bat during the first game of the Sanyo All-Star Series on Friday at Jingu Stadium.

Aoki robbed Satozaki and Fernandez of hits in the top of the seventh with athletic grabs, but while still in right in the third inning, he could nothing onto a Tsuyoshi Shinjo rocket, and he was charged with an error.

Aoki still got a check for 2,000,000 yen as the MVP, though.

“I was happy to hit the home run in my home stadium, but I am embarrassed by the error,” he said.

Aoki wasn’t the only Swallow to give home fans something to cheer about. Player-manager Atsuya Furuta brought the crowd to his feet with a third-inning at-bat in which he grounded out to Yoshii, and third baseman Akinori Iwamura gave the CL an insurance run with a solo homer in the sixth against Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara, the third consecutive Orix pitcher Valentine brought out of the bullpen after starting with Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Pacific League had taken the lead in the top of the second when Satozaki homered, but Matsuzaka walked Tomoaki Kanemoto to lead off the bottom of the frame. The Hanshin Tiger and 2005 CL MVP came around to score on a double by Giants first baseman Lee Seung Yeop, the only foreign player in the starting lineup Friday.

The second of the two-game series will be played Saturday at Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki.

Satozaki, who went 2-for-4, was the only PL player with multiple hits.

Aoki and Iwamura finished 2-for-4 as well, leading the CL.

Along with Aoki, Satozaki, Iwamura, Shinjo and Daisuke Miura were recognized for outstanding play and given 1,000,000 yen prizes.

Shinjo also played great defense, and he stepped to the plate in the first inning with a scrolling light belt buckle, which he showed off by pulling back his jersey during his at-bat.

Miura, who came in in the third inning, went two innings, striking out one and allowing no runners in earning the win.