FUKUOKA – Three solo home runs helped the Central League edge the Pacific League 5-4 on Friday to claim Game 1 of this summer’s All-Star series.
The Yomiuri Giants’ Hayato Sakamoto went deep in the fourth before the game’s MVP Yoshitomo Tsutsugo of the Yokohama BayStars and Wladimir Balentien of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows homered in the fifth to hand the CL a comfortable lead before 35,653 at Yafuoku Dome.
Tsutsugo also doubled as he went 2-for-3 in a game which saw no runners reach base over the first three innings, with PL starter Tsuyoshi Wada of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and his CL counterpart Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants both throwing two perfect innings.
Sakamoto finally broke the ice with two outs in the fourth, with a blast over the left-field wall off the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Ayumu Ishikawa for the game’s first hit. And Tsutsugo and Balentien homered off Takahiro Norimoto of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles the following inning.
The PL finally got its first hit in the bottom of the fifth, when SoftBank’s Yuya Hasegawa blasted a four-bagger off Yusuke Nomura of the Hiroshima Carp.
Tatsuhiro Tamura of the Chiba Lotte Marines then made it a one-run game in the eighth with an RBI single off Yomiuri’s Scott Mathieson. But in the top of the ninth, SoftBank closer Dennis Sarfate allowed a two-run double to Yokohama’s Yasutaka Tobashira to give the CL a 5-2 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Seibu veteran Takumi Kuriyama ripped a two-run homer off Hiroshima reliever Shota Nakazaki to again make it a one-run game, but the CL held on to win the first of the two-game series.
The second game will be played on Saturday at Yokohama Stadium.
Shintaro Fujinami of the Hanshin Tigers, who gave up just a walk while pitching the third and fourth innings, was credited with the win.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Shohei Otani, the fan’s choice for PL starting pitcher, didn’t take the mound due to a blister on his right middle finger. But the 22-year-old, who has 10 home runs for the Fighters this year, won the home run derby before the game, besting Tetsuto Yamada of the Swallows and SoftBank’s Yuki Yanagita for the honor.
During the game, Otani lined out when he appeared as pinch hitter in the eighth inning.