Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Uchikawa delivers late-game heroics for PL in triumph over CL in NPB All-Star Series opener

Kyodo

Pacific League elder statesman Seiichi Uchikawa scored the tying run and singled in the go-ahead run in a 6-2 NPB All-Star Series Game 1 victory over the Central League on Friday.

Before 36,111 at Nagoya Dome, the 34-year-old Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks star tied the game after reaching on a seventh-inning pinch-hit single and then singled in the game-winner in the eighth. Uchikawa’s two singles earned him the game MVP Award despite three teammates each getting two hits including a home run.

Uchikawa entered the game to bat for young superstar Shohei Otani, who had gone 0-for-2.

“I was self conscious about replacing Shohei Otani,” said Uchikawa, one of only two players to win batting titles in both leagues in NPB. “Otani is the one they wanted to see.

“Getting this (the MVP) is just timing. Other guys, the ones who hit home runs, made a bigger impact than I did.”

Minutes after Hawks center fielder Yuki Yanagita won Game 1’s home run derby, Shogo Akiyama of the Seibu Lions led off the game with a homer against CL starter Raul Valdes of the Chunichi Dragons. It was the ninth first-inning leadoff homer in all-history.

The host CL tied it at 1-1 in the fourth, when the Yokohama BayStars’ Yoshitomo Tsutsugo extended his All-Star game home run streak to three games.

PL starter Kodai Senga, who plays for the Hawks, held the CL hitless for two innings, but Tsutsugo hit an opposite-field homer off Seibu Lions lefty Yusei Kikuchi.

The CL scored in the bottom of the sixth off Orix Buffaloes rookie Taisuke Yamaoka. Hayato Sakamoto of the Yomiuri Giants singled and scored on a double by the Dragons’ Alex Guerrero. But the PL tied it up moments later against Chunichi right-hander Katsuki Matayoshi.

After Uchikawa reached, singles by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Haruki Nishikawa and the Hawks’ Alfredo Despaigne brought him in.

Hanshin Tigers setup man Marcos Mateo relieved in the eighth, and the game got out of hand. Akiyama smashed an infield single with one out, stole second and broke the tie on Uchikawa’s two-out single. Nishikawa then homered to make it a three-run lead.

A change to BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki in the ninth failed to slow the PL assault. The Fighters’ Sho Nakata led off by taking the right-hander out to straight-away center.

After giving up a run in the sixth, Yamaoka worked a 1-2-3 seventh for the PL. Lions submariner Kazuhiko Makita faced three batters in a scoreless ninth, while Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles closer Yuki Matsui earned a saved with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Yamaoka, who pitched the sixth and seven innings for the PL, earned the win.

Mateo, who worked one inning, took the loss.