Shintaro Fujinami is the one with the “W” next to his name, but his parents came away as the big winners.
Fujinami retired all nine batters he faced, Shinnosuke Abe hit a tiebreaking solo homer in the sixth inning and the Central League All-Stars rallied for an 8-6 victory over the Pacific League in Game 1 of the NPB All-Star Series on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.
“He went three perfect innings and that gave us a boost,” CL manager Tatsunori Hara said.
Tigers star Fujinami struck out two in his three innings of work, collecting both the win and Game 1 MVP honors, which came with a check for ¥3 million.
“Let’s see, I think I’ll give it to my parents,” the 21-year-old said of the prize money.
Fujinami faced the Lions’ Tomoya Mori in the sixth inning in a matchup of former teammates. As high schoolers in 2012, Fujinami and Mori formed the battery for an Osaka Toin team that swept the spring and summer titles at Koshien. Mori swung at Fujinami’s second pitch on Friday and scraped the Tokyo Dome roof with a popup that fell into first baseman Jose Lopez’s glove.
“It was especially great to hold Mori down,” Fujinami said half-jokingly.
Osaka Toin is well represented in the All-Star Series with Seibu’s Hideto Asamura, Mori and Takeya Nakamura, as well as Fighters slugger Sho Nakata on the PL roster, and Fujinami and Dragons outfielder Ryosuke Hirata on the CL side.
Abe, the longtime Giants stalwart, had an eventful night.
Prior to the game he served as the pitcher for Yoshitomo Tsutsugo during the home run derby. With Abe, a longtime catcher turned first baseman this season, lobbing pitches toward the plate, the BayStars slugger hit nine homers to beat Swallows star Tetsuto Yamada in the first round. He took down the Hawks’ Yuki Yanagita 6-3 in the final stanza.
Abe followed that up with a 2-for-4 performance that included his solo shot in the sixth.
“I’d like to see Abe hit some more homers for me during the regular season,” Hara joked.
One of Hara’s former players, Jose Lopez, had a big night as well. The BayStars first baseman led both teams with three hits and was one of the eight CL players to drive in a run.
Marines pitcher Hideaki Wakui had a disastrous outing for the Pacific League. Wakui took the loss after allowing five runs on seven hits over two innings.
His Lotte teammate, Ikuhiro Kiyota, had a much better night, connecting on a three-run home run in his first All-Star Series appearance. Nakata, Softbank’s Kenta Imamiya, and Seibu catcher Ginjiro Sumitani also drove in runs.
Neither starting pitcher factored into the decision. Reigning CL MVP Tomoyuki Sugano threw three innings and allowed four runs on three hits. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei Otani pitched two frames, allowing one run on two hits.
Otani relied heavily on his fastball, but did mix in a few off-speed pitches, at the behest of Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles catcher Motohiro Shima, including one that sailed over Yamada’s head at 89 kph.
“I thought I’d basically be throwing fastballs,” Otani said. “But Shima-san called for breaking balls so I threw some. I didn’t practice my breaking pitches at all before the game.”
The Central League got on the scoreboard first, taking a 1-0 lead on Lopez’s RBI single in the second.
The Pa League stormed back in the third.
Katsuya Kakunaka got things going with a double and was driven in on Imamiya’s two-bagger. Shima struck out looking for the first out, but Shogo Akiyama drew a walk to put runners on first and second. Kiyota cleared the bases with his shot to left, which put the PL ahead 4-1.
The CL loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, but only managed one run on a sacrifice fly by Tsutsugo.
Yuhei Nakamura led off the bottom of the fifth with a single for the CL and was replaced by pinch runner Takahiro Suzuki, who got a big ovation in his home park. Suzuki stole second and came home on a double by Kajitani. A flyout by Takashi Toritani was enough to get Kajitani to third, and the BayStars outfielder came home to tie the game after an error by third baseman Takeya Nakamura later in the inning.
Abe broke the tie with his homer in the bottom of the sixth. Lopez followed with a double and Shingo Kawabata drove him in with an RBI single. Toritani added to the CL advantage with an RBI hit that made the score 7-4.
The Hiroshima Carp’s Ryosuke Kikuchi led off the eighth with a single and came home on Kosuke Tanaka’s RBI triple later in the frame as the CL added to its lead.
Nakata and Sumitani brought in runs for the Pa League in the ninth, but it was too little too late.
“I had a great team with talented members,” Hara said. “It was easy to manage them, and I’m just glad we won.”
The scene shifts to Hiroshima’s Mazada Stadium for Game 2 on Saturday. The Carp’s Hiroki Kuroda, in his first season back in Japan after seven in the majors, will get the start for the CL against Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Mitsuo Yoshikawa, who will toe the rubber for the PL.
“I believe the Central League is also going to win tomorrow,” Fujinami said.