CHIBA – For one night, it was just like old times for Alfredo Despaigne in Chiba. A monstrous home run, a celebration with Chiba Lotte Marines catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura, and a celebratory “Despa-iine” call-and-response with the fans in right field after the game.
It was almost like he’d never left.
The former Marines and current Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks slugger hit a game-tying home run that banged off the screen below the scoreboard in center in the fourth inning, and the Seibu Lions’ Shogo Akiyama drove in current Marines star Daichi Suzuki with a tiebreaking double in the fifth, as the Pacific League finished off an All-Star sweep with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 of the NPB All-Star Series on Saturday night at Zozo Marine Stadium.
“Everyone played and had fun, and that’s why we were able to come up with the series sweep,” Despaigne said.
The PL swept the All-Star Series for the first time since 2004. The Pa. League improved to 82-78-11 overall against the CL with Saturday’s win.
This is the result of the effort by our great pitchers,” Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama, who led the Pacific League, said of the victory.
It had a lot to do with some pretty good hitters as well.
Despaigne came to the plate in the fourth with the PL down 1-0, via a solo home run by the Yomiuri Giants’ Seiji Kobayashi in the third. Despaigne got one of the loudest, if not the loudest, ovations of the night and responded with a deep blast to center to even the score.
Suzuki further ignited the crowd with a triple to lead off the fifth, and Akiyama brought him in with a two-out tiebreaking double that got past Giants first baseman Shinnosuke Abe.
Suzuki tacked another run onto the lead with a home run off Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Yasuhiro Ogawa to start the seventh, making the score 3-1.
“I wasn’t trying to hit a homer, but maybe I was swinging a little harder than usual,” Suzuki said. “But I was behind in the count, so I was focused on swinging at a hittable pitch.”
The Fighters’ Shohei Otani followed him to the plate and nearly made it back-to-back home runs with a deep ball to left that died in the wind just in front of the fence.
“It might have gone out without the wind,” Otani said. “But I was a little late anyway. Ogawa’s pitch was good.”
A lot of eyes were on Otani during the series. The two-way star has missed most of the season while recovering from injuries, and had made just 18 appearances (once as a pitcher) before the All-Star break. He was 0-for-3 across both games and also participated in the Home Run Derby before each contest.
“Personally, I’ve just gotten back to action, so I need to get right physically first,” Otani said. “I’ve only played a few games, yet I was still chosen and was able to absorb a lot of things.”
Despaigne, who also had a pair of singles, was named the game’s MVP. The burly slugger is hoping to carry that form into the second half for the Hawks, who trail the first-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles by 1 1/2 games in the PL standings.
“I’m really on a roll right now, so I’d like to keep it up and contribute to the team,” said Despaigne, who currently sits second in the PL with 21 home runs.
Akiyama, Suzuki and Kobayashi earned Outstanding Player honors.
Akiyama finished with three hits and an RBI.
“They weren’t so great,” Akiyama said of his hits. “But I would be happy no matter what kind of hits I get during the season. But here, I tried to do too much, things I don’t do during the season.
“Not everyone can participate in this, and particularly because I had some positive results, I can say I had a very good time.”
Suzuki had a triple and a home run, and with the game in his home park, might have had a case to be named MVP.
“Just winning Outstanding Player alone is too much for me,” he said.
The CL was held to Kobayashi’s home run and singles by the Hiroshima Carp’s Kosuke Tanaka, and the Hanshin Tigers duo of Takashi Toritani and Ryutaro Umeno.
The Eagles’ Manabu Mima finished as the winning pitcher, with two scoreless innings of relief.
“I’m just relieved I was able to hold them to no runs,” Mima said.
He struck out his former Rakuten teammate Casey McGehee in the fourth. McGehee also went down swinging against Eagles ace Takahiro Norimoto in the first.
“It was fun I got to face those guys, obviously things didn’t go my way,” McGehee said. “I was probably trying to be too aggressive, but they called really good pitches.”
Norimoto didn’t show McGehee his fastest stuff, as he clocked an unofficial personal best of 158 kph while facing the Chunichi Dragons’ Alex Guerrero.
The Fighters’ Keisuke Tanimoto earned the save, while Yokohama BayStars pitcher Shoichi Ino took the loss.
With the All-Star Series over, the players will disperse and turn their focus back to their respective pennant races. It will be a short turnaround for many, with regular-season play resuming with 10 teams in action on Monday.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5