HIROSHIMA – Samurai Japan small-balled its way to a 5-3 win over the MLB All-Stars in Tuesday’s Game 4 of the Japan All-Star Series, dampening Kenta Maeda’s return to his former home park.
For the second time in the six-game series, Samurai Japan overcame a two-run ninth-inning deficit. Japan had won Friday’s Game 1 in dramatic fashion on Yuki Yanagita’s sayonara home run, but this win resulted from the purest expression of Japan’s game.
Samurai Japan leveraged two walks, two singles, two sacrifices, two stolen bases a wild pitch and an RBI groundout into a four-run ninth inning.
Kazuki Tanaka led off the ninth and narrowed the gap to a run. The Tohoku Rakuten Eagles rookie drew a walk off San Diego Padres reliever Kirby Yates (0-2), stole second and scored on a Seiji Uebayashi single. A sacrifice and a single by the Carp’s Kosuke Tanaka tied it.
Tanaka stole second and went to third on a throwing error. After an intentional walk to Shogo Akiyama, Ryosuke Kikuchi brought his Carp teammate home with a safety squeeze off St. Louis Cardinals reliever John Brebbia.
“I wouldn’t give myself a good grade for that bunt, maybe 30 out of 100,” Kikuchi said.
“With Maeken (Maeda) pitching, the place was jumping. It really made me nostalgic and more motivated to get a hit off him, although he did get me out.”
A passed ball moved both runners up a base, and Akiyama scored on a ground out by Yanagita to make it a 5-3 lead, and Yokohama BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki worked around a one-out single in the ninth to pick up the save.
Maeda, Hiroshima’s ace until he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, started and allowed one hit and struck out two in a brief, two-inning cameo.
“It was really fun being back on the field where I used to play, and I was glad that the fans were able to see me pitch,” Maeda said.
Rhys Hoskins of the Philadelphia Phillies opened the scoring with a second-inning solo home run off Hiroshima Carp right-hander Daichi Osera.
Osera, whose 15 wins this season tied him for the Central League lead, worked five innings, allowed a run on two hits and a walk, while striking out three.
“I had a pretty good command on my pitches, except for a mistake Hoskins hit for a home run,” said Osera, who was pitching to Carp batterymate Tsubasa Aizawa.
The All-Stars made it 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh. National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. reached on an error by rookie pitcher Rei Takahashi, who failed to catch a throw at first base. Juan Soto, runner-up to Acuna in the voting, doubled in MLB’s second run.
Akiyama halved Japan’s deficit in the top of the eighth with an inside-the-park home run that Soto failed to track down in left field.
“I was trying to will it to stay fair as I was running,” Akiyama said. “Fortunately, I didn’t slice it foul. That was exhausting.”
Amed Rosario answered Akiyama’s run by scoring in the bottom of the eighth. He doubled off lefty reliever Yuki Matsui, went to third on a fly to right and scored on a sacrifice fly from Carlos Santana, a veteran of the last MLB tour in 2014.
Maeda’s wasn’t the only homecoming on Tuesday. Before the start of the game, his former Carp teammate, Hiroki Kuroda approached the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
It was a visual spectacle with Maeda sporting the same No. 18 that Kuroda wore with the Dodgers, and Kuroda wearing his No. 18 Yankees shirt in which he finished his major league career.
“I never imagined I’d have a chance to wear my Yankees shirt at Mazda Stadium,” said Kuroda, who returned to the Carp for his last two pro seasons in 2015 and 2016.
Kuroda opted to make his ceremonial pitch from the grass in front of the mound.
“The starting pitcher was on the mound,” he said. “I wasn’t just going to climb his mound in my leather shoes.”