Popular Fighters star Inaba ignites PL in All-Star finale


Staff Writer

Atsunori Inaba may have crashed Yoshinori Sato’s homecoming party, but at least he did it in style.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters veteran homered, drove in three runs and finished a triple short of hitting for the cycle to help the Pacific League beat the Central League 5-0 in the final game of this year’s All-Star Series.

“Everyone here has been working so hard,” Inaba said of the crowd of 21,347, many of whom were affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. “I feel like I also was able to work hard. I’m glad I was able to play today.”

Most of the pre-game buzz centered around Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Sato, who grew up in Sendai and went to high school in the city, and PL hurler Masahiro Tanaka, who stars for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Inaba stole their thunder early on, hitting a two-run homer off Sato in the first inning and adding an RBI single in the third. He grounded out in his third at-bat, then hit a double in the seventh.

He brushed aside suggestions of hitting for the cycle.

“(Atsuya) Furuta-kantoku is still the only one who has done that, hit for the cycle,” Inaba said.

Orix’s Takehiro Okada also nearly matched Furuta, going 3-for-4 with a single, double and solo homer.

Former Yakult great Furuta hit for the cycle during a 1992 All-Star game. Inaba has hit for the cycle during the regular season, achieving the feat against the Yokohama BayStars on July 1, 2003.

Inaba finished 3-for-4 and was named the game’s MVP.

“I was able to get my first home run and first MVP (in All-Star competition) this year,” Inaba said after the game.

The Fighters star had a superb series, going 4-for-7 with two home runs and four RBIs over the three games.

Tanaka earned the win in his home stadium, despite throwing only one inning.

The PL sent eight pitchers to the mound, and they combined to throw the first All-Star shutout since 2007, when the CL staff tossed a one-hit shutout. The PL’s last shutout was in 1997.

Fighters rookie hurler Yuki Saito took the mound to much fanfare in the sixth inning and retired all three batters he faced.

“I could feel their cheers,” Saito said.

Sato took the loss, allowing two runs on three hits in two innings on the mound.

“I know Yoshinori-kun was looking forward to pitching here,” Inaba said.

Before the game, a moment of silence was held in honor of the victims of the March 11 disasters. Rakuten’s Motohiro Shima made a few remarks prior to the game, telling the crowd that, “together we are strong,” and to “please enjoy today’s game.”

Tanaka was among those pleased the game was in Sendai.

“I hope to be able to give a little power to people here,” Tanaka said.

Yokohama BayStars infielder Naoto Watanabe was 2-for-4 for the CL, much to the delight of the crowd, who serenaded the former Eagle with cheers each time he was involved in a play. Swallows veteran Shinya Miyamoto also recorded two hits.

The Pa. League took two of three in this season’s All-Star Series, which featured three games for the first time since 2001.

The regular season will resume on Monday when the Chiba Lotte Marines take on the Seibu Lions.

All 12 teams will be in action on Tuesday.