The MLB All-Stars prepared for their series against Samurai Japan by giving former Japan manager Tatsunori Hara a rude welcome in his return to the dugout.
Washington Nationals rookie sensation Juan Soto drove in a run with an infield double off the Tokyo Dome ceiling during a five-run third inning as the MLB team earned a 9-6 win over Hara’s Yomiuri Giants on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
“You never know what you’re going to get when guys haven’t played in like a month and just a couple of days of workouts and trying to get that together,” MLB manager Don Mattingly said. “I thought they swung the bat good. But on the backside of that, I think we saw a little bit of rust as far as defensively, some of the plays that we gave up some extra outs.
“We were able to get away with it tonight. That’s probably not something that we’ll get away with if we continue to give extra outs.”
The exhibition was a warm-up for the MLB players, who will face Samurai Japan in the first game of the six-game Japan All-Star Series on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“Throughout the whole team, all we want to do is come out here and compete,” said reliever Chris Martin, who was credited with the save. “Obviously we want Japan to come out and compete as well, and we know they will.”
Thursday’s contest may not have counted officially, but it’ll be one Giants outfielder Seiya Matsubara will never forget. The 25-year-old hasn’t yet made his NPB debut, but was included on the Yomiuri roster and delivered a three-run inside-the-park home run in the fourth.
“It was my first ichi-gun (top team) at-bat, so of course I was nervous,” Matsubara said. “Since I joined the team last year, I was determined to make sure I would enjoy my first at-bat. That’s the way I approached it. I’m happy that led to a good result.”
Matsubara, who was on an ikusei (developmental) contract until July 31, added a single in the sixth.
J.T. Realmuto hit an RBI double in the third and a solo home run in the fifth for the MLB team. Amed Rosario had a two-run single while Soto and Yadier Molina had an RBI apiece.
“Really I was just trying to go up there and not do too much, really just try to see the ball,” Realmuto said. “Those guys had really good stuff. They mixed pitches well, they moved the ball around the plate. I was really just trying to stay short and put the ball in play.”
Matsubara led the Giants with three RBIs. Shingo Ishikawa, Shingo Usami and Naoki Yoshikawa also drove in runs.
MLB starter Hector Velazquez was credited with the win, with Yomiuri starter Hosei Takata charged with the loss. Velazquez threw two scoreless innings, while Takata was tagged for seven runs — five earned over three innings.
Hara is back in the dugout for the Giants after taking over for Yoshinobu Takahashi, who stepped down at the end of the season. The 2019 campaign will mark Hara’s third stint with the club. He was also the Japan manager in 2009, when the nation won the second of its two World Baseball Classic titles.
Former Yomiuri great Hideki Matsui was also back in uniform, coaching first base for the MLB team in his No. 55 New York Yankees road uniform.
With the win, the MLB team heads into the series with more momentum than Samurai Japan, which lost 6-5 against Taiwan in an exhibition on Wednesday night. Still, Mattingly sees the Japanese players’ familiarity with each other as an advantage.
“When you put a team together quickly, you try to keep things simple, just play basic baseball,” he said. “It’s like anything else, when you work with someone all the time, you’re comfortable, it becomes family. When you don’t, you’re not with the guys that you play with, it’s a little uncomfortable but you don’t really know each other at that point.
“Family to me, always plays better.”