Baseball

MLB offense rebounds in Game 4, triumphs over Japan

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The MLB All-Stars can’t win their series against Samurai Japan but that doesn’t mean they can’t go down swinging.

Justin Morneau homered and drove in four runs in support of starter Chris Capuano, and the MLB team notched its first victory in the MLB-Japan All-Star Series with a 6-1 win over Samurai Japan on Sunday night at Tokyo Dome.

“The top third of our lineup did an amazing job, Jose (Altuve) Yasiel (Puig) and Justin (the 1-3 hitters in the MLB lineup), and with Chris, his ability to pitch in with his fastball and use his change-up effectively, it kept them off balance,” said John Farrell, the Boston Red Sox manager who is leading the MLB team in Japan. “Offensively, the top three guys set the tone for us here tonight.”

One night after being no-hit in Game 3, the MLB team had home runs from Morneau and Evan Longoria among its 10 hits, most of which came off Japanese starter Shintaro Fujinami.

“I didn’t necessarily feel bad,” Fujinami said of his performance. “I just wasn’t good enough.”

Farrell made a few changes to his lineup after the no-hitter and his moves, especially switching Puig from sixth in the order into the two-hole, where he went 3-for-4, worked out.

“We had to make some adjustments,” Farrell said. “Obviously with Robinson Cano’s injury (a fractured little toe on his right foot) taking him out of the lineup. Then the way they were attacking Yasiel in the first three games and really not giving him too much to hit.

“To put him in front of Morneau I felt like was an opportunity for him to see some pitches and it worked out. They threw the ball in the strike zone and he responded with the three hits tonight.”

Altuve finished 3-for-4 in the leadoff spot while No. 3 hitter Morneau was 2-for-4 with an RBI double and his home run. Morneau has done a lot of the heavy lifting for the MLB team, driving in six of the MLB squad’s eight runs over the first four games.

Longoria drove in the MLB All-Stars’ other run with his solo home run in the sixth.

Capuano picked up his second victory in Japan with five innings of one-run ball. The left-hander, who pitched for the New York Yankees in 2014 and is wearing a Yankee uniform despite technically being a free agent, struck out four.

Capuano was also the winner in the MLB team’s first game in Japan, an 8-7 exhibition victory over a combined Hanshin-Yomiuri team. He said the period between that outing and his start on Sunday might have been a contributing factor in his performance.

“I actually felt better in that first game with my stuff and my command, than I did tonight,” Capuano said. “It was helpful being able to watch the Samurai team for a few games before I had to pitch against them. I was trying to watch what our pitchers, especially our left-handed pitchers, were throwing and I think that helped me a little bit.”

The only run Capuano allowed was on an RBI double to Yoshitomo Tsutsugo in the second that drove in Nobuhiro Matsuda.

“I was able to drive in a run in my first at-bat, but I couldn’t really create any opportunities to score in my other two at-bats,” Tsutsugo said. “This game is all about winning, and I couldn’t really contribute to winning tonight.”

Fujinami allowed four runs on five hits in four innings to take the loss. He struck out five.

“Fujinami threw well, but the MLB hitters are used to strong fastballs, so they hit his fastball pretty well,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said. “If Fujinami could’ve mixed in some off-speed pitches, he could’ve gotten the hitters off balance, but he couldn’t do it.”

Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday at Sapporo Dome. The MLB team will send Matt Shoemaker to the mound with Japan countering with Shohei Otani.