On the eve of a day sure to bring back a lot of painful memories, the members of Samurai Japan made it their mission to offer a little bit of relief, if only temporarily.
Tohoku native Kenta Kurihara came through with the biggest hit of the night, a two-run homer in the third inning, and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka got the win, as Japan routed Taiwan 9-2 in a charity game in front of a crowd of 35,505 on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
“I was able to swing the bat the way I wanted,” said Kurihara, who hails from Yamagata Prefecture and is the star slugger for the Hiroshima Carp. “For me, who is from Tohoku, this game means more. I am happy I was able to have a good result.”
The game was held on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which devastated a large swath of northeastern Japan, as a way to help aid ongoing relief efforts.
A total of 12,000 tickets were given to residents from disaster-stricken areas and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to disaster relief.
“In a charity game like this, or in a pennant race, I hope to be able to show some courage by playing well,” said Chunichi Dragons pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi, who tossed a pair of scoreless innings for Japan.
The Taiwanese team consisted of an All-Star squad from the Chinese Professional Baseball League, led by CPBL MVP and home run leader Lin Hung-Lu. The game marked the first time NPB has invited the CPBL, which began in 1990, to Japan for an exhibition.
Prior to the game, Japanese players’ union head and Hanshin Tigers star Takahiro Arai urged everyone to continue to do their part to help the relief efforts and popular vocalist Masayuki Suzuki sang a poignant rendition of “Kimigayo.”
Taiwan got out of the gates quickly once the game started, taking an early lead when Pan Wu-Hsuing, homered to left in the top of the first inning.
It was all Japan from there.
Seibu Lions teammates Takeya Nakamura and Hiroyuki Nakajima each recorded an RBI single in the bottom of the first to put Japan ahead 2-1.
“There are so many people who suffered in the disaster,” Nakamura said. “So we wanted to play our best for them.”
Kurihara homered in the third, and the rout was on. Yokohama BayStars infielder Naoto Watanabe drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth and Arai did the same in the fifth.
Japan added a run on an error in the sixth before scoring two more on a single by Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters slugger Sho Nakata. Taiwan was held to five hits and scored its only runs on solo homers by Pan and rising CPBL star Lin, who took Yomiuri Giants pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura deep in the seventh.
Tanaka got the start and gave up a run in two innings. He was followed by Yomiuri’s Tetsuya Utsumi, Yoshimi, the Fighters’ Yuki Saito, Sawamura and Orix Buffaloes setup man Yoshihisa Hirano.
Central League MVP Takuya Asao of the Dragons closed out the game.
All the offense made things easy for the Japanese hurlers.
“The team gave me a big lead, so I could pitch without any nerves and I enjoyed it,” Saito said.
The Taiwanese team took the field following the game and bowed to the Japanese supporters then to their own, receiving a standing ovation in the process.
Lions acquire Shima
Hiroshima Cap outfielder Shigenobu Shima has been traded to the Seibu Lions for left-handed reliever Hirotake Egusa, the clubs announced Saturday.
Shima had a Central League-leading .337 batting average in 2004, but his career has gone downhill ever since. The 35-year-old hit just .256 in 54 games last season.