Howard’s blast sparks MLB


OSAKA — Ryan Howard ignited the MLB All-Stars, and the visitors are a game away from sweeping Nichibei Yakyu.

News photo Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard hits a solo homer
to break a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning of
Game 4 of the Japan-MLB series on Tuesday at Kyocera Dome. MLB
won 7-2.

Howard’s solo shot in the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie, setting the tone for a five-run rally as MLB beat the NPB team 7-2 Tuesday at Kyocera Dome, taking a 4-0 lead in the five-game series.

It was Howard’s fourth home run of the series and his fifth in Japan, including one during last week’s exhibition game with the Yomiuri Giants.

“Did I already hit that many?” Howard said. “I’m glad to get all those, and I hope the fans are enjoying it.”

And once the 2006 NL home-run champ booked his round trip, the MLB team had enough punch to pull one win from an unblemished record in the Land of the Rising Sun as a crowd of 34,054 cheered on.

The last American team to sweep a tour of Japan was the 1949 San Francisco Seals, a minor-league team, while the last to leave without a loss was the 1955 New York Yankees, who went 15-0-1. The last major-league team to sweep in Japan was the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig All-Stars, who went 17-0 in 1934.

The All-Star tour wraps up Wednesday in Fukuoka, and the MLB team knows of only one way it would like to wrap things up.

“We like how things have been going, and we’re just going to come out and try to play the same way,” Howard said.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles starter Kazuo Fukumori pitched a scoreless seventh inning in relief of Kei Igawa, but Howard began Fukumori’s meltdown a frame later.

After Howard’s homer, Fukumori walked Andruw Jones and David Wright before hitting Bill Hall with a pitch to load the bases for Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.

Utley drove in a run with a single, and Fukumori walked Brian Schneider, giving the Washington National backstop an easy RBI.

Katsuya Nomura pulled his righty in favor of Yomiuri’s Tetsuya Utsumi, who gave up a two-run single to Jose Reyes before retiring the next two batters to end the inning.

“He was pitching well, but I got under his splitter and drove the ball,” Howard said of Fukumori’s undoing.

It was MLB’s second lead of the night, but unlike the previous advantage, it was not fleeting.

Schneider’s RBI single in the second followed by a solo homer from Wright in the fourth kept NPB at bay until the sixth.

Igawa, the Hanshin Tigers ace and a posting hopeful, lasted six innings, coming out after his no-decision had been booked.

Although the Tigers will be less likely to post Igawa now that Hiroki Kuroda is supposed to remain with the Hiroshima Carp — meaning that he could not be signed as a replacement for the lefty — taking a loss against the major leaguers wouldn’t have been good for Igawa’s reputation.

He was decent enough, six walks aside. Igawa gave up five hits and two runs in six innings, striking out four. But Howard was 0-for-3 against him, something that made Igawa proud.

“I wasn’t really satisfied with my pitching tonight,” Howard said. “Because Ryan is my age, I didn’t want to give up any hits. I did all right against him, but I gave up hits to other guys.”

San Diego Padres pitcher Chris Young, making his second start in Japan, left at the first sign of trouble, erasing the only two runners who got on base in his first trip through the order, but came out when Norichika Aoki and Shuichi Murata pulled off a double steal in the fourth.

Aoki, who had stolen second base already, reached on an Utley error before Murata walked.

Colorado Rockies left-hander Ray King got out of the jam, forcing Kazuya Fukuura to hit into a grounder to first base.

NPB got on the board two innings later, against John Maine, who struggled in two-thirds an inning, walking two and allowing two hits.

Fukuoka Softbank Hawks outfielder Naoyuki Omura walked and stole two bases to lead off the sixth, and Aoki also walked. Murata broke through with a timely hit, scoring Omura, and Shinnosuke Abe drove in Aoki with a sacrifice fly to right field, Chone Figgins robbing the Giants catcher of an extra-base hit.

NPB threatened against Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth, after Fukuura singled and Abe walked to lead things off, but the Twins closer buckled down and quelled the threat.

Mike Myers, who pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief, earned the victory.

The series finale at Yahoo Dome will pit Tsuyoshi Wada against John Lackey.