OSAKA — It’s probably about time someone came up with another nickname for Seibu Lions shortstop Kazuo Matsui.
Matsui, who is known as “Little” Matsui in comparison to Yomiuri Giants slugger Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui, came through with some clutch hitting, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs to lead the Japan All-Stars to an 8-6 win over the MLB All-Stars in Game 3 of the seven-game series.
The Japanese side has now won the first three games of the series after the major leaguers kicked off their tour with an 8-1 exhibition win over the Giants.
The Japanese squad jumped on MLB starter Tomo Ohka in the first inning for a 6-0 lead. Norihiro Nakamura hit a three-run homer and Matsui drove in two runs that inning with a double to right.
“We were up by four so I was able to relax,” said Matsui, who is 6-for-10 for the series and was selected the Most Valuable Player of the game. “I’m glad I came through in that big scoring opportunity.”
Matsui also drove in the game-winning run in the fifth, when he doubled off Bartolo Colon of the Montreal Expos to bring home Chunichi’s Kosuke Fukudome and make it 7-4.
“We wanted more leeway and I was able to come through in that situation,” said Matsui, who becomes a free agent after next season and is considered one of Japan’s top prospects. “Before I went in to bat, (Japan manager Tatsunori) Hara told me to give it all I’ve got. I went in there and swung at the pitch without any regrets.”
Playing perhaps his final game in a Kintetsu Buffaloes uniform at the Osaka Dome, homeboy Nakamura got Japan on the board first. He homered off Ohka on a first-pitch fastball over the heart of the plate to give Japan a 3-0 lead.
“It was perfect contact,” Nakamura said. “It’s been a while since my last home run, so I’m real excited. I’m glad that I was able to hit one at the Osaka Dome.”
Nakamura’s roundtripper ignited the Japanese squad, which had been on a hitting spree the first two games of the series. Japan has gotten on the scoreboard early so far, outscoring the major leaguers 18-6 in the first four innings of the three games combined.
Another local favorite, Hanshin Tigers infielder Makoto Imaoka, doubled through the right-center gap to bring home Seibu’s Alex Cabrera for a 5-0 lead.
While timely hitting put Japan on the board, the big boys responded with power.
San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds reached down to hammer Japan starter Kei Igawa’s first pitch in the fifth, a low fastball, for a solo shot to make it 8-5.
Inspired by Bonds, who hit in the No. 3 spot for the first time this series, Minnesota Twin Torii Hunter sent one into the upper deck for a solo home run, cutting the Japanese team’s lead to 8-6.
Hunter, who sat out Sunday’s game, is 6-for-8 for the series and has two home runs in as many games. He was chosen his team’s MVP.
Ichiro Suzuki broke out of an 0-for-10 slump in the series with a double down the right-field line in the second inning. The MLB team’s leadoff man drove in Eric Hinske from second to cut Japan’s lead to 6-4.
For the third straight game, Hideki Matsui couldn’t clear the fence. He went 0-for-5, including two deep flyouts. The second, which came in the top of the eighth, looked on course for the right-field stands, but Minnesota’s Jacque Jones caught the ball on the warning track.
Bonds and New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi had a chance to do some damage in the bottom of the eighth. Arizona’s Junior Spivey tripled with one out, thanks to some poor fielding by Hideki Matsui in center field.
But in consecutive at-bats, Bonds and Giambi both struck out swinging against Seibu right-hander Shinji Mori.
Ohka, a Kyoto native, got a loud ovation as he was introduced to start his first game in Japan after moving to the big leagues in 1999.
Ohka, who went 13-8 with Montreal this season, was roughed up from the get-go, giving up six runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.
“I enjoyed it, but I didn’t think I’d get hit that hard,” Ohka said. “To be honest, we want to win one of these games sooner or later.”
Contrary to Ohka, Igawa mixed his fastball effectively with his slider. He gave up six runs on 12 hits and fanned two in five innings.
“I’m tired,” Igawa said after the game. “I got the strikes I needed, so I think I pitched pretty well. They put a lot of distance on those home runs, and it actually feels pretty good if it goes that far. These guys were batters I would rarely face, so it was a memorable outing.”
After the game, Kazuo Matsui talked about his nickname and how much he was enjoying this series, especially after such a dismal performance in the Japan Series, in which Yomiuri swept Seibu.
“I’m used to being called that name (‘Little’ Matsui) now. There’s a lot of foreign media who call me ‘Little’ and it’s all good fun. I think (former San Francisco Giants manager) Dusty Baker called me that in 1996 and ever since, it’s been that way.”
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