NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - Samurai Japan halted a two-game losing streak on Thursday, beating a team of major leaguers 6-4 in an exhibition that wrapped up MLB’s tour of Japan.
The big leaguers left Japan with a 3-4 record, including losing three of five games in the MLB-Japan All-Star Series. The MLB squad started its seven-game tour by beating a combined team of Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants players 8-7 in a warm-up game.
Before a raucous crowd at Okinawa Cellular Stadium, Samurai Japan exploited some poor fielding by the tourists to come from a run down after three tenuous innings from Japan starter Shota Takeda of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
The major leaguers scratched out a run in the first inning, but wasted an opportunity to blow the game open when Takeda whiffed a batter for the third out with the bases loaded.
A couple of miscues by the 21-year-old Japan starter paved the way for the first run of the game. A throwing error by Takeda to open the game and a poor decision on an infield roller gave the MLB squad runners on the corners with no outs. National League batting champion Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies then did his duty with a sacrifice fly to center. The big leaguers loaded the bases with two outs but Takeda’s second strikeout of the inning stranded all three runners.
Japan quickly tied it against Los Angeles Angels lefty Hector Santiago. Softbank’s Seichi Uchikawa drew a one-out walk and came around to score through singles by Hawks teammates Nobuhiro Matsuda and Kenta Imamiya.
Takeda allowed just one run despite allowing four hits and four walks over three innings.
In the third he was saved by some top-caliber defense from two Hawks teammates. With one out and two on, Imamiya brought the crowd to its feet by going deep into the hole at short to save a run. He not only kept the ball in the infield, but got a force at second. That out became big when Yuki Yanagita made a good catch in the gap in left for the third out.
“I was not throwing particular well tonight,” Takeda said. “My rhythm was poor and I need to work on that. However, it was a good experience that I can build on in the future.”
A couple of errors on routine plays allowed Japan to take the lead in the fourth. Uchikawa singled with one out. A throwing error by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria put runners on the corners with one out. On the next play, center fielder Dexter Fowler caught a sinking liner in shallow center, but was charged with an error when trying to double up the runner at first, allowing Uchikawa to score.
Samurai Japan tacked on a run against Chicago Cubs lefty and former Softbank ace Tsuyoshi Wada in the fifth. Ryosuke Kikuchi opened with a clean single to right and scored on a triple by the Orix Buffaloes’ Yoshio Itoi.
Buffaloes lefty Takahiro Matsuba relieved Takeda and worked a 1-2-3 fourth before surrendering a leadoff homer to Longoria in the fifth. Two walks and a single loaded the bases with two outs, but Matsuba gave Japan yet another escape.
Japan scored three runs in the eighth, two off Houston Astros right-hander Jose Veras and another off St. Louis Cardinals lefty Randy Choate who entered with two outs and two men in scoring position. The left-handed-hitting Yanagita rolled a two-run single through the middle and scored on Ryosuke Kikuchi’s triple.
The big leaguers scored the game’s final run in the bottom of the eight behind two blasts past Imamiya at short. National League batting champ Jose Altuve of the Astros hit a shot that got past Imamiya on a tough hop for a two-base error, and Morneau hit another smash that hopped over Imamiya and up the middle for an RBI single.