One can only imagine what went through Hiroshima Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura’s mind in the Central League dugout when Brad Eldred went down after fouling a ball off his foot in the seventh inning of the 2014 All-Star Series opener on Saturday at Seibu Dome.
Maybe Nomura saw the CL pennant slipping away as his best hitter, and one of the best hitters in Japan this year, sat on the ground in pain. Fortunately for the Hiroshima skipper and the rest of the Carp faithful, Eldred got up, brushed himself off and homered on the very next pitch.
The two-run blast helped the CL All-Stars rout their Pacific League counterparts 7-0, and Eldred hopes that sequence, minus the excruciating foot pain, was a sign of things to come for the Carp.
“It didn’t feel too good at first,” he said after the game. “That kind of helped me. He (Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Michael Crotta) has a good sinker. I faced him in interleague. It made me look more out over the plate. I didn’t want to swing at something inside again, I’d probably end up doing the same thing, just pounding it off my foot. I was looking out over the plate and it made me go the other way with it. So that gave me a good result.”
Eldred feels the Carp can experience a similar recovery from a painful past few weeks.
Hiroshima burst out of the gate in 2014 looking almost as strong as during the team’s heyday in the late 1970s to early ’90s. The Carp (42-38-1) were in first place in the CL for the majority of the season early on, but are currently third as they continue to try and undo the damage wrought by a disastrous 9-15 interleague campaign.
“We had some ups and downs in the first half,” Eldred said. “I don’t think we’re necessarily where we want to be right now. I think we could be doing a lot better. I feel like the team feels that way too. I feel like they’re motivated. I think they’re confident we have a really good team. I think we expect to win.
“The fans think the same thing. That’s good. We kind of get a little bit of a drive from them as well as from us having the confidence and the expectation to do that. I guess in years past, maybe the expectations weren’t there from each other, or you didn’t quite have the confidence, but I think everyone is pretty confident that we have a good team.”
Hiroshima’s talents were on full display in the All-Star opener.
Carp ace Kenta Maeda got the start for the CL, struck out three over three scoreless innings, and was credited with the win.
“Because I was the starter, it was good to finish without allowing a run,” Maeda said.
Carp infielder Shota Dobayashi recorded the game’s first hit with a single in the third and scored the first run of the contest after being driven in by Hiroshima teammate Ryosuke Kikuchi. Both players finished with two hits. Yoshihiro Maru also picked up a hit, a double in the seventh, and reliever Ryuji Ichioka retired the only batter he faced.
Eldred accounted for a lot of the heavy lifting, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs. The Hiroshima star was named the game’s MVP.
Eldred simply did what he’s been doing all year. He entered the break leading Japan in home runs (29) and RBIs (80) while batting .290 with a .968 OPS. He’s on pace to have easily his best year in Japan.
“Not much has changed,” Eldred said. “Just getting a good start, and not being hurt or coming halfway. This time I’ve been here the whole year and stayed healthy and had a real good start to kind of set the basic foundation for putting up the numbers that I expect to have.”
About the only thing that didn’t go well for Eldred, who won the home run derby earlier Saturday, was his at-bat against Pacific League starter Takayuki Kishi, who struck him out on four pitches.
Kishi, the Seibu Lions’ top hurler, finished with four strikeouts in his two innings on the mound at his home ballpark. The All-Star setting allowed Kishi to let it all hang out, and he served up a healthy dose of fastballs, notably throwing six straight before striking out Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien, who after the game said, “he wins the battle.”
“I wanted to throw all fastballs without worrying about mixing pitches,” Kishi said. “I was a little nervous, but I enjoyed myself.”
Probably not as much as Eldred, who will be ready to get back to business after the All-Star festivities.
“We’re a team that’s hopefully going to be fighting for a spot in the playoffs and maybe even have a chance to finish up top,” Eldred said. “They’re going to need me to keep doing well and keep driving guys in, so I’m going to just try to do my job and get the job done.”