CHIBA — With a little help from his new Hanshin Tigers teammates, Hideki Irabu made a triumphant return to his old stomping grounds.
Hanshin slugger Tomoaki Kanemoto belted two homers and teammate George Arias added a solo shot as the Central League beat the Pacific League 5-3 Wednesday night at Chiba Marine Stadium, thereby clinching the 2003 All-Star Series.
Irabu, who started his career with the Lotte Orions and Chiba Lotte Marines before a six-year stint in the major leagues, notched three strikeouts while scattering two hits in three scoreless innings to pick up the win.
“It feels strange to be pitching here, in my old home ballpark and facing some of the same batters I faced seven years ago when I played in the PL,” Irabu said.
Kanemoto, who also drove in the CL’s third run of the game with a sacrifice fly, was named game MVP.
“It sure feels good to be the MVP again,” said Kanemoto, who also picked up the prize in 1996, when he played for the Hiroshima Carp. Kanemoto joined this Tigers this season as a free agent and has been a big reason Hanshin currently leads the CL standings by 14.5 games.
“I hope I can pick up some more awards in this uniform,” added Kanemoto.
Seibu Lions first baseman Alex Cabrera drove in two of the PL’s three runs with a pair of solo homers off Yomiuri Giants reliever Hiroshi Kisanuki.
“When I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that rookie (Kisanuki) was throwing 152 kph, I knew I had to keep my swing short and it worked,” Cabrera said after his first home run. “Now I want to hit another one.”
After his second home run, Cabrera vowed to hit a third but instead smacked a 157-kph fastball from Ryota Igarashi between the pitcher’s legs and up the middle for a single.
“All-Star Games are for the fans and that’s why I went out there and threw as hard as I could because that’s what everyone wants to see,” said Igarashi, who threw nothing but fastballs from the mound. “Sure I gave up a hit to Cabrera, but I’m not disappointed about that at all.”
After giving up Cabrera’s first home run, Kisanuki settled down and retired the next five batters he faced. Then in the sixth inning he gave up home runs to Nippon Ham infielder Michihiro Ogasawara and Cabrera before surrendering back-to-back singles to Orix catcher Takashi Miwa and Seibuout fielder Kazuhiro Wada.
“I had planned to only go two innings, but I pitched so well during my second inning on the mound that I decided to go one more,” Kisanuki said. “Now I wish I hadn’t.”
Marines right-hander Naoyuki Shimizu, the PL’s starter, was saddled with the loss after allowing one run and three hits in two innings.
Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes outfielder Tuffy Rhodes, who leads the PL with 30 home runs, had a tough day at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Before the game Rhodes said he would be swinging for the fences because he wanted to give his son, Karl Jr., a birthday present.
The game was delayed about five minutes in the second inning when Hawks catcher Kenji Jojima limped off the field after being hit in the foot by a foul ball off of Arias’ bat. Jojima left the ballpark to have X-rays on the foot, but returned to the PL dugout when doctors gave him the all-clear.