CHIBA – Takeya Nakamura put in a day’s work long before the start of the second All-Star game. He had practiced, won the home run derby, collected his winner’s check and posed for pictures with the commissioner.
Turns out, he was just getting started.
“Okawari-kun” hit a two-run home run in the first inning and added a solo shot to dead center in the fourth to help the Pacific League earn a 4-3 win over the Central League in the second game of the NPB’s All-Star Series on Saturday at QVC Marine Field.
“It didn’t feel like I completely made the fans happy during the home run derby,” Nakamura said. “So it was nice to see them being happy because of my home runs during the game.”
Nakamura finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and was named MVP of the game. He entered the All-Star break with an NPB-best 26 home runs, and he more than lived up to his reputation on this day.
“He’s really locked in with the home runs balls,” Hanshin Tigers outfielder Matt Murton said. “It’s impressive what’s he’s doing in a year where home runs are down.”
The victory ties the All-Star Series at 1-1 after the CL’s 9-4 win on Friday.
The CL All-Stars trailed for the entire game on Saturday, but nearly clawed their way back in it during the ninth inning.
They trailed 4-2 when Chunichi Dragons infielder Hirokazu Ibata delivered a one-out single. Chunichi’s Masahiro Araki was sent on to run, and reached second on a bunt by Hanshin Tigers second baseman Keiichi Hirano.
Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto drove the runner in with a single. The next batter, Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien, doubled to send Sakamoto to third.
The Giants star may have tried to score the tying run, but was held up at third by Yomiuri pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi, who was serving as the third base coach for the inning.
Utsumi got some good-natured ribbing from Sakamoto and the bench after that.
“I think everybody expected him to send the runner,” Giants slugger Alex Ramirez said. “But it’s the All-Star game. He doesn’t know anything about baserunning. But it’s OK, he’s a pitcher,” Ramirez joked.
Utsumi was all smiles after the game.
“I was thinking about Hayato’s legs,” Utsumi joked. “He could’ve been hurt. I hope ‘Okawari-kun’ appreciates it. I guess I can get some of the prize money he earned (for being MVP).”
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters closer Hisashi Takeda retired the next batter to end the game and earn the save.
Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Yuki Karakawa, a Chiba Prefecture native, got the start and the win for the Pa. League. Karakawa threw two scoreless innings, allowing four hits, striking out one and walking one.
“I certainly enjoyed the game,” Karakawa said. “I wasn’t particularly nervous or anything. As a matter of fact I was less nervous (than usual). But I wasn’t satisfied with how I pitched today at all.”
Seiichi Uchikawa, who hasn’t played a regular-season game for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks since June 19 due to a nagging hamstring injury, doubled in his only at-bat to account for the PL’s lone run not driven in by Nakamura.
Uchikawa said he had some luck from an unlikely source.
“For some reason, I ended up wearing (teammate Hiroki) Kokubo’s pants and I guess it worked,” Uchikawa said.
Sakamoto had the best day at the plate for the CL, finishing 3-for-5 with a solo homer and two RBIs. Game 1 MVP Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, who plays for the Swallows, also drove in a run, finishing 2-for-3.
The final game of the All-Star Series is scheduled to take place at Kleenex Stadium in Sendai on Sunday.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.