Nyjer Morgan danced. Then he posed for pictures, and just before disappearing into the tunnel that would lead him out of Jingu Stadium, he stopped, formed a T with his hands, and led the Yokohama BayStars ouendan (cheering section) cheers for a few moments.
Afterward Morgan said it was because he and his teammates were on the big stage. If that’s true, then on a night full of leading men, “Tony Plush” stole the show.
Morgan hit a go-ahead three-run home run, just moments before NPB home run leader Tony Blanco nearly knocked a ball out of the stadium, during a six-run fourth inning that propelled the BayStars to a 7-6 victory over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Thursday night.
BayStars fans seem to have fully embraced Morgan, and when they honor him by making the T sign, he returns the gesture twofold.
“That’s Tony Plush the entertainer,” Morgan said. “We play on the biggest stage, and every entertainer has a stage name.”
The BayStars were behind 5-3 when Morgan sent the first pitch of Itsuki Shoda’s relief appearance into the seats in right field.
“The thing was, I saw that guy when I got sent down to the minors,” Morgan said. “I understood what he was going to do. I knew he had a slow breaking ball. I just sat back and waited for it to get in there and just put a nice, good swing on it.”
Most eyes were on Blanco and Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien, Japan’s top two home run hitters, prior to the teams’ three-game series. Neither homered on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s game was rained out.
Balentien outslugged Blanco two homers to one on Thursday, but it was Blanco’s team which went home as the victor.
“Today was good,” Blanco said. “I had been in a little bit of a slump and I was able to get two hits. I was just doing my job.”
Balentien got the party started with a three-run shot to left in the first to equal Blanco’s NPB-high total of 24 while also giving the Swallows a 3-0 lead.
Catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka’s RBI groundout got the BayStars on the board in the top of the second, but Takahiro Araki hit a two-run blast, his first of the year, for Yakult in the bottom half to give the Birds a 5-1 advantage.
Yokohama made it 5-3 in the fourth on a two-run single by Noriharu Yamazaki, and Morgan homered off Shoda to give the BayStars a 6-5 lead.
Morgan said afterward that the rally wouldn’t have happened “without Yamazaki’s great hit.”
Blanco victimized Shoda four pitches later, blasting an ill-placed sinker to the foot of the netting beyond the left-field bleachers, to complete a six-run rally.
“We just stuck with our game plan,” Morgan said. “We kept fighting, and from then on we knew he had to stay together and play all 27 outs. Basically, it was just a team effort. We never got down. We knew we had to fight. It was a team effort.”
The home run was Blanco’s 25th of the season, putting him back in sole possession of the NPB lead.
That stood until Balentien cranked a solo shot in the ninth to pull the Swallows within a run at 7-6, and into a tie for the home run lead.
Blanco ended the night 2-for-5 with an RBI, raising his batting average to .338. Morgan finished with a pair of hits and three RBIs, and Yamazaki was 2-for-3 with two runs driven in. Sho Aranami also had a pair of hits for Yokohama.
Reliever Kota Suda (1-0) threw two scoreless innings to earn the win on a night that wasn’t kind to either starting pitcher.
Yokohama’s Zen Kai-un gave up five runs in one-plus innings, while Yakult’s Orlando Roman was touched up for five over 3 2/3.
Shoda, who was pulled from the game without recording an out, allowed two runs and was charged with the loss.
Balentien and Araki did all the Swallows’ damage at the plate. Leadoff batter Tetsuto Yamada had a triple among his two hits, and Lastings Milledge was 2-for-5.
Bullington back on track
Bryan Bullington allowed two runs over seven innings to win for the first time since April 10 as the Hiroshima Carp defeated the Central League-leading Yomiuri Giants 3-2 on Thursday.
Bullington (3-6) allowed a two-out, two-run home run to Giants captain Shinnosuke Abe in the top of the first inning at Mazda Stadium, but escaped three jams to last seven innings.
Giants starting pitcher Ryosuke Miyaguni (2-3) limited the Carp to two hits and two walks through the first five innings, but the wheels came off after he bunted into a rally-killing double play in the top of the sixth inning.
Fred Lewis opened the home half of the sixth with his second double of the game, and Brad Eldred tied it with his fifth home run of the year, a two-out shot. Carp catcher Tsubasa Aizawa put Hiroshima in front with a solo shot in the seventh.
“He did a great job behind the plate all day, and to get a big hit like that was exciting,” said Bullington, who responded to the game-changing shot by pumping his fists in the dugout.
“It’s been a tough stretch, but I’ve been throwing the ball halfway decent.”
Bullington gave up eight hits, all singles except for Abe’s home run, while walking two, hitting one and striking out six.
Miyaguni gave up three runs on five hits and two walks, while striking out four. Abe has now reached 20 home runs for the seventh consecutive season.
Eagles 10, Lions 1
At Omiya Park Stadium, Tohoku Rakuten delivered a 15-hit flogging of Seibu to stay within two games of the PL lead.
The Eagles hammered floundering Lions ace Hideaki Wakui (4-4) for five runs in two-plus innings.
Rakuten lefty Takashi Kawai won his 2013 debut, allowing one run on six hits and no walks. All the damage came on Ryan Spilborghs’ third homer of the year.
Marines 8, Buffaloes 4
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Chiba Lotte’s Seth Greisinger (1-0) allowed two runs in five innings and was supported by two-run homers from Toshiaki Imae and Tadahito Iguchi as the PL-leading Marines pushed Orix further back into last place.
Buffaloes first baseman Lee Dae-ho hit his 13th and 14th home runs of the season and also doubled in a 4-for-4 effort. Greisinger allowed five hits and no walks.
Veteran lefty Tomoya Yagi (0-1) allowed five runs in two-plus innings in his Orix debut.
Luna named All-Star
Chunichi Dragons third baseman Hector Luna was rewarded on Thursday for a spectacular start to his NPB career, when he was placed on the Central League All-Star team following a vote by his peers.
Shortstop Hayato Sakamoto and outfielder Hisayoshi Chono, both of the Yomiuri Giants, and Hanshin Tigers outfielder Matt Murton were added to the CL roster by the players after being left off the squad in the fan ballot. The players only added two Pacific Leaguers to those named by the fans, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles catcher Motohiro Shima and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Yang Dai-kang.
Luna, a first-year import, leads the CL in batting average (.365), hits (95), doubles (21) and triples (three). The 33-year-old Luna, who batted .262 in 794 major league at-bats over seven seasons, garnered 384 votes. Yomiuri Giants third baseman Shuichi Murata was second in the players’ poll. The fans’ selection, Yakult Swallows veteran Shinya Miyamoto, did not crack the top three among the players.
Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe led the players vote with 589 votes. The most popular player in the fan voting, Orix Buffaloes outfielder Yoshio Itoi, drew 493 votes from the players, the most in the PL.
Yang is making his second straight All-Star series. Last year, the Taiwan international marked his All-Star debut by being honored as one of Game 1’s top performers and was named the MVP of Game 3.
“I’m grateful to the players for selecting me,” he said. “I’m not aiming for anything in particular this year, but I do want to pick up whatever I can about hitting from the different veterans who will be there.”
On July 1, CL manager Tatsunori Hara of the Giants, and PL skipper Hideki Kuriyama of the Fighters will fill out the bulk of the two, 32-man rosters. The 32nd man on each roster will be named on July 10 following an internet vote.
The first game of this summer’s series will be at Sapporo Dome on July 19, the show moves to Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium the following day and wraps up in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 22.