Playing in their first Konami Cup Asia Series early game, the Chiba Lotte Marines already had Saturday night off.

Manager Bobby Valentine went ahead and made it a whole day off for most of his starters, but Lotte’s reserves were strong enough to beat the China Stars 3-1 at Tokyo Dome.

Benny Agbayani, Hisao Heiuchi and Matt Franco were the only Lotte regulars in the lineup, and Valentine even gave Tomohiro Kuroki the ball against the Chinese.

“We have many very good young players, and I wanted to give them an opportunity to get some great experience and exposure,” Valentine said of the lineup alterations.

“Playing before a big crowd in a big game, I thought they did fine.”

Agbayani had a bases-clearing double, and Kuroki left with an injury after igniting a rally-killing triple play.

Kuroki was hit by a line drive off the bat of China third baseman Yang Guo Gang, whose bullet was caught by second baseman Keisuke Hayasaka.

China’s runners on first and second bases didn’t tag up and failed to make it back before the 1-4-3-6 triple play had ended Kuroki’s two-on, no-out jam.

“He was throwing really well, and I think it went off his knee cap,” Valentine said.

“It was one of the strangest triple plays I have ever seen.”

China had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the first after leadoff hitter Hou Feng Lian singled, moved to second on a hit-and-run, stole third base and then came home on a throwing error.

One mighty Agbayani swing in the fifth shifted the advantage back to Lotte.

“The opposing pitcher had kept us a little off-balance,” Agbayani said. “It is pretty new when you see all these different pitchers coming at you.”

China starter Zhang Li had given up just one hit heading into the fifth, but after he walked Masato Watanabe to begin the inning, the wheels started coming off.

Hayasaka then singled, and two batters later, Franco walked to load the bases.

Agbayani worked the count to 2-2 before smacking a double off the right-field wall. He was the last batter Zhang faced.

Neither team was at its best in a game with six errors. The Marines committed four errors, as many hits as the Japan Series champions mustered.

In addition to resting his starters for the championship game, Valentine no doubt sat his stars as a gesture of respect to longtime friend and former Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Jim Lefebvre, China’s manager.

“They have all the skills to play the game of baseball with strength and speed,” Valentine said of the Chinese.

“Their baseball instincts are very good, and again I think they’re development is very good. I don’t think they are ready to play in the Japanese league, but it seems to me that could come very quickly.”

Although China was 0-3 in the Konami Cup, Lefebvre was very pleased with the experience.

“As far as our team is concerned, this is one of the big tournaments we have played in,” he said.

“I’m very proud of the team. We came here a little hurt, missing some players, but we make no excuses.”

Lotte closer Masahide Kobayashi grabbed the save, pitching a scoreless ninth. China’s Hou was 2-for-3 with a walk. He was the only batter with multiple hits.

Lotte stranded nine base runners to China’s five.

The Samsung Lions started well and cut short a Sinon Bulls rally in the fifth inning, winning 4-3 in the late game Saturday.

The Lions posted three runs in the bottom of the first inning, adding what became the decisive run in the second.

The Bulls, who wrapped up Konami Cup play with a 1-2 record, plated all three of their runs in the fifth.

Lotte will play Samsung in Sunday’s 6 p.m. championship game at the Big Egg. The Marines will start Shunsuke Watanabe.

Beattie interviews

BOSTON (AP) Trading away a Dominican star wouldn’t faze Jim Beattie. As general manager of the Expos, he once sent Pedro Martinez packing from Montreal.

Beattie, former executive vice president of the Baltimore Orioles, met Friday at Fenway Park with Red Sox president Larry Lucchino. He’s the fourth candidate interviewed since the departure of Theo Epstein last month.

One of the first tasks of a new Red Sox general manager will be dealing with a trade request by slugger Manny Ramirez.

Under different circumstances in 1997, Beattie traded Martinez to Boston for top pitching prospects.

“Everybody is obviously open to be traded, or eligible to be traded,” Beattie, referring to Ramirez’s status as he spoke with reporters after the job interview.

But at the same time, he said, he wouldn’t be eager to trade away one of the game’s best hitters.

“As a ball player, he’s a force. I known David Ortiz doesn’t want him to be traded. When you’re trying to put together clubs, you’re trying to find great hitters like Manny Ramirez.”

He called his Martinez trade “a very tough decision.”

“Payroll was not going to keep pace with everyone else’s. We were given choices of letting guys become free agents — or trading them.” he said.

Beattie said if chosen for the Red Sox job, he’d try to carry on some of the success the team has had in the past rather than make wholesale changes.

Washington general manager Jim Bowden, Minnesota assistant GM Wayne Krivsky and Atlanta assistant GM Dayton Moore interviewed with Lucchino and Red Sox chairman Tom Warner on Wednesday at a hotel near the general managers’ meetings in California.

Boston wants to hire a replacement by the winter meetings, scheduled for Dec. 5-8.

Pirates add Shelby

PITTSBURGH (AP) John Shelby was hired by the Pirates as a first base and outfield coach on Friday, the third member of Jim Tracy’s staff with the Los Angeles Dodgers to join him in Pittsburgh.

Shelby, a former outfielder with Baltimore, Los Angeles and Detroit, was a Dodgers coach for eight seasons, six of them as first base coach.

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