This game was worthy of its All-Star label. Both clubs played a solid, crowd-pleasing game Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
Jermaine Dye blasted the decisive home run. Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer threw out two baserunners and dominant pitchers on both sides kept everyone on their toes, antsy for the next pitch.
The MLB All-Stars earned a 3-2 victory over their NPB counterparts in the first game of the 2006 Nichibei Yakyu before 42,397.
NPB skipper Katsuya Nomura, a baseball veteran of more than 50 years, said this game was an example of the sport’s shrinking gap. “I don’t think there’s a huge difference (between the U.S. and Japan now),” he said.
Bruce Bochy, the new San Francisco Giants manager, was pleased with how the series started.
“It was a very good ballgame,” Bochy said. ” . . . The MLB team came here and knew it would be very competitive. It’s great to see how global this game has become. It’s great for baseball.”
Phillies slugger Ryan Howard lashed the game’s first hit, a leadoff double to left in the bottom of the second. Andruw Jones poked a single to left and took second on a wild pitch and Mauer, who led the American League with a .347 batting average in 2006, followed with a walk to load the bases for the Mets’ David Wright.
Yomiuri Giants southpaw Tetsuya Utsumi fanned Wright for out No. 1. The next batter, Chase Utley appeared fooled by a pitch and lightly tapped the ball in front of Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe. The 2-3 sacrifice enabled Howard to score the game’s first run. Milwaukee’s Bill Hall struck out to end the inning.
In the third, Rafael Furcal roped a one-out single to left. Dye, who helped the Chicago White Sox win the 2005 World Series, followed by crushing a 1-1 off-speed pitch up in the zone into the left-center field stands. That made it 3-0.
“It was a change-up. I was able to get a good swing at it,” Dye said. “I got ahold of that one pretty good.”
Angels right-hander John Lackey retired NPB’s first 10 batters.
Yosuke Takasu legged out an infield single in the fourth, beating Wright’s throw and stole second.
Two batters later, Fighters left-handed slugger Michihiro “Guts” Ogasawara stroked a first-pitch fastball to the opposite field, plating Takasu and cutting the MLB All-Stars lead to 3-1.
“I knew that John Lackey moves his balls a lot, so I went into the batter’s box thinking about going the other way,” said Ogasawara, who wasn’t fooled by Lackey’s breaking ball.
Then Shuichi Murata worked the count full, but flied out to Jones to end the threat.
Ogasawara knocked a two-hop, one-out double off the wall in right-center with one out in the seventh. Muruta walked, giving Abe a solid running-producing opportunity against Mets pitcher John Maine. Abe worked the count to 3-2, then walked as the crowd cheered excitedly.
“I think he’s a great player,” Nomura said later of Ogasawara. “He will give 100 percent at home plate and that’s what he did tonight.”
Moments later, right fielder Yuki Yoshimura of the BayStars belted a high fly to center for a sacrifice fly, cutting MLB’s lead to 3-2.
But that was as close as the Japanese All-Stars would get.
Lackey worked five innings and allowed one earned run, two hits and struck out four. He did not issue a walk.
“I felt really good out there,” Lackey said. “I was able to throw a lot of strikes, so they helped me with the game.
“I am glad I was able to come out of the game with a lead.”
The Angles’ Scott Shields worked a scoreless eighth and Twins reliever Joe Nathan pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save Utsumi, meanwhile, pitched six innings and was taken out after throwing 97 pitches. He yielded three runs on nine hits, struck out four and walked two.
“I was excited that I was able to strike out Mauer with the fastball because I know he does not strike out much,” Utsumi said.
Seibu Lions pitcher Hideaki Wakui, a 20-year-old who has been dubbed Matsuzaka Jr., took over in the seventh. He fanned two batters apiece in the next two frames, getting Wright looking to end the eighth.
Dye, who fanned in the seventh, was impressed with Wakui.
“He has a good live fastball and knew what he was doing,” Dye said. “He could spot his pitches away. He threw me a 3-1 slider. You’ve really got to believe in your off-speed pitches (to use them then).”