Ronald Acuna Jr. jumped for joy as the MLB All-Stars celebrated in their dugout. In the stands, fans on the third-base side stood with both arms raised and waving from side to side. Even some of the Samurai Japan fans were cheering.
Yadier Molina smiled and briefly waved his arms too as he rounded the bases, having just put a jolt into both Tokyo Dome and the Japan All-Star Series with a three-run home run.
Molina’s opposite-field homer was the highlight of a four-run fifth inning for the MLB All-Stars, who bounced back from a pair of losses to beat Samurai Japan 7-3 in Game 3 of the six-game Nichibei Yakyu (Japan-America Baseball) series.
“It was a good feeling to experience that here in front of the Japanese fans,” Molina said. “There is a great crowd here tonight.”
MLB starter Scott Barlow held the Japanese to one run in 4 1/3 innings on the mound and J.T. Realmuto backed him up with a homer in the fourth.
“This guy right here (Barlow) set the tone,” MLB manager Don Mattingly said. “I think that’s where it seems to always start. Last night’s game didn’t go well, we weren’t able to do that, but Scott set the tone.
“I thought J.T.’s homer was big for us, because it gets on the board, gives us a lead.”
Samurai Japan holds a 2-1 advantage in the series. Game 4 is on Tuesday in Hiroshima. Former Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, will get the start for the MLB team against the current Carp ace Daichi Osera.
The MLB team came into Sunday’s game trying to avoid a 3-0 hole in the series and Molina provided the turning point of the contest in the fourth.
With runners on first and second with two outs, the St. Louis Cardinals catcher fired to first base and picked off Seiji Uebayashi to stamp out a scoring threat with the score tied 1-1.
“I felt like Yadi’s pick at first was huge,” Mattingly said.
So did Samurai Japan manager Atsunori Inaba.
“We saw a big shift in the momentum in the game tonight in the fourth inning,” Inaba said. “Molina made a really good pick-off move to first base. We should’ve been much more careful.”
Molina also helped the MLB pitchers hold down a Japan team that scored seven runs in the opener and 12 in Game 2.
“We really couldn’t hit anything tonight because Molina was calling such good pitches,” Inaba said.
Molina delivered with his bat as well, going 3-for-5 on Sunday. He’s 7-for-11 with three RBIs in the series.
Barlow struck out four and walked two to earn the win. While he didn’t have much information about the Japanese hitters going in, watching the first two games from the bench was a big help.
“Definitely,” he said. “The more information you can get definitely helps a lot. Then having all the guys in the bullpen, the other starters, kind of picking their brains, kind of getting ideas from them as well definitely helps.
“Also going with my strengths and everything and not trying to shy away from that too much. Seeing the hitters before definitely helped.”
Shinsaburo Tawata allowed five runs — four earned — over 4 1/3 innings for Japan and was charged with the loss.
“I was able to do a decent job the first time through their lineup, but after that I gave up home runs and I felt I wasn’t good enough just yet,” Tawata said. “Hopefully I’ll do a better job if I get another chance like this.”
Realmuto’s opposite-field homer off Tawata was his second home run in as many days.
“I timed it right, fortunately, and turned it the other way,” Realmuto said.
Juan Soto nearly had his third homer of the series in the same frame, but his shot to right hit the ceiling and was caught by Shogo Akiyama in front of the wall when it came down.
Japan tied the score on an RBI double by Shuta Tonosaki in the bottom of the fourth.
The MLB side scored on a throwing error in the fifth, when Whit Merrifield bunted with runners on first and second and Tawata fired the ball past the first baseman, allowing a run to score. Molina’s home run later in the frame gave the MLB stars a 5-1 advantage.
The MLB side added two more runs in the seventh. Eugenio Suarez brought in the first with an RBI double and Mitch Haniger made it 7-1 with an RBI single.
Pinch hitter Hotaka Yamakawa and second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi each doubled in a run for Japan with two outs in the ninth.
But it was too little, too late for Japan, as John Brebbia got the final out to close out the victory.