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Maeda handcuffs MLB stars as Samurai Japan wins Game 1

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda pitched five shutout innings to lead Samurai Japan in a 2-0 victory over a group of visiting major league stars in Game 1 of the Japan All-Star series on Wednesday night in Osaka.

Eight years ago under Bruce Bochy, this year’s World Series championship manager with the San Francisco Giants, the MLB stars won the series 5-0. So much for a sweep this time.

Maeda, who went 11-9 with a 2.60 ERA this past season, got rolling strong in a match-up against Los Angeles Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker, the 28-year-old who went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA as an American League Rookie of the Year finalist.

Maeda, who has become a hot topic of MLB talk, scattered just two singles while issuing two walks in a 71-pitch outing.

“I am happy to finish my outing with a satisfying result, especially in the first official game of the series,” Maeda said.

The Carp right-hander has come under the radar as a target of the posting system, although his team indicated last month it is unlikely to accept bids for him this winter.

“They made me throw a few more pitches than I would have wanted to in the first inning, but I found my rhythm after that. It was good to complete five innings. I felt they have a dangerous lineup,” he added.

Hiroki Kokubo’s Samurai Japan drew blood in the second.

Fukuoka Softbank’s Seiichi Uchikawa hit a leadoff single on a line drive to right and Hayato Sakamoto followed with a double to center.

Uchikawa then scored on a sacrifice fly by Nobuhiro Matsuda, but got some assistance from Dexter Fowler, whose throw was off line and allowed Sakamoto to advance to third on the play.

Sakamoto had a one-out single in the fourth.

He was out at second on a force on Matsuda’s grounder to shortstop, but the MLB team failed to turn a double play that gave its opponent another opening.

Matsuda, who was safe at first as second baseman Robinson Cano’s throw was slightly off target, stole second and came around on Tetsuto Yamada’s line drive to left to make it 2-0.

Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles catcher Motohiro Shima kept the inning alive when he singled to right to put runners at the corners, but Hawks leadoff man Yuki Yanagita struck out swinging to end the inning.

“I got a changeup. I struck out in my first at-bat, so I was determined to put the bat on the ball even if I fell behind in the count,” Yamada said.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the night was Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Shohei Otani, who got a chance to showcase his flamethrower arm with relief in the eighth. He retired the side in order, clocking heat of 159 kph at one point.

In the best-of-five series, a pitcher may not throw more than 80 pitches in a game. If he exceeds the limit while facing a batter he is allowed to finish the batter’s plate appearance.

NPB Hall of Famer Yutaka Fukumoto, Japanese baseball’s career steals leader, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Games 2, 3 and 4 will be held at Tokyo Dome starting Friday night before the series wraps up with Game 5 at Sapporo Dome. The MLB stars will play an exhibition game, also against Samurai Japan, at Okinawa Cellular stadium on Nov. 20.

Orix Buffaloes ace Chihiro Kaneko will face Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma on Friday night.