There were stars from both MLB and NPB playing under the bright lights at Tokyo Dome on Saturday night.
Then there was Yuki Yanagita, who was in a league of his own.
Yanagita hit a two-run home run and drove in four runs overall to lead an offensive explosion as Samurai Japan beat the MLB All-Stars 12-6 in Game 2 of the Japan All-Star Series in front of a crowd of 45,450 at the Big Egg.
“It feels really great,” Yanagita said. “It really ended up being a great day for me.”
Japan has a 2-0 lead in the six-game series.
Despite the two teams combining for 18 runs and 25 hits, both managers felt the first inning was the turning point in the contest.
For Japan, Sosuke Genda put himself in scoring position with a double and was later driven home by Yanagita as the Japanese took an early lead.
“I think it’s big we were able to score in the first inning,” Japan manager Atsunori Inaba said. It gave us some good momentum.”
The MLB All-Stars, meanwhile, failed to score after putting runners on the corners with no outs in the bottom of the frame.
“They were able to score early,” MLB manager Don Mattingly said. “Then we come out and get first and third and don’t score there. You kind of lose momentum right there.”
No one has more momentum right now than Yanagita.
He ended Game 1 with a two-run sayonara home run and didn’t waste any time getting started in Game 2, driving in a run with a single to left in the first inning. He hit a two-run homer to left in the third, connecting on a curveball from starter Erasmo Ramirez.
“I was just looking to hit the ball as hard as possible and it paid off and ended up being a positive result,” Yanagita said.
Yanagita picked up his fourth RBI of the night with a single in the fifth. He finished 4-for-4.
Slowing him down is something the MLB team will try to figure out going forward.
“As far as an overall impression, I don’t know if we’ve got a real good way to figure out where we’ve got to get the ball,” Mattingly said. “Everybody has got holes, and we’ve got to try to exploit those and get him on his heels a little bit.”
This sort of output isn’t foreign to the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks slugger. He hit .352 with 36 homers during the NPB regular season. He then hit a pair of homers on the way to earning MVP honors in the final stage of the Pacific League Climax Series. Yanagita also homered and drove in four runs for the Hawks during the Japan Series, which they won in six games.
Yanagita shone brightest on Saturday, but he wasn’t alone in making it a long night for the MLB players.
Shogo Akiyama led a trio of Seibu Lions with a 3-for-4 night that included an RBI triple and two-run single. Sosuke Genda had an RBI single among his three hits and Tomoya Mori pitched in with a pinch-hit RBI single.
Akiyama and Genda, hitting in the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the order combined to finish 6-for-9 with four RBIs.
“Genda is so good defensively,” Inaba said of his shortstop. “As for his hitting, he normally hits in the No. 2 spot behind Akiyama for the Lions and that combination worked very well.”
Tetsuto Yamada had a two-run single for Japan and Tsubasa Aizawa also drove in a run.
“We’ve been able to win because the team’s morale on the bench is good,” Akiyama said.
Samurai Japan starter Naoyuki Uwasawa was buoyed by the run support and cruised to the win behind five innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Uwasawa said. “Especially after I gave up a hit and then allowed a runner to reach third (in the first), I was panicking a little bit. But the catcher (Tsubasa) Aizawa-san really calmed me down and called good pitches and I was able to get a strikeout and finish the inning with a double play.”
Ramirez was tagged for five runs over three innings in the losing effort.
J.T Realmuto had a three-run homer and a double for the MLB All-Stars. Juan Soto also homered and Kike Hernandez and Kevin Pillar drove in one run each.
Game 3 of the series is on Sunday night at Tokyo Dome. Shinsaburo Tawata will start for Japan against MLB’s Scott Barlow.
The MLB stars said they’re happy to be in Japan and have praised the hospitality of their hosts. They, however, were adamant this isn’t a vacation.
“As athletes and competitors, we don’t know it any other way, we’re going to go out there and compete,” Pillar said. We’re not going to allow these two games to dictate the series.
“I think that home run gave them a lot of momentum. They were able to score early and more importantly get out of the first inning without us scoring. I think if we score there, we kind of take some momentum back and it might be a different outcome.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5