OSAKA--Takeshi Yamasaki was kicking back on the bench, enjoying Game 1 of the All-Star series with the 33,618 fans at Kyocera Dome Osaka on Thursday when he was called upon to do some work.
The 39-year-old did the most with the least, smacking the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth inning to right field for an RBI pinch-hit single that gave the Pacific League a 5-4 come-from-behind walk-off win over the Central League.
The hit, which capped a two-run rally in the first sayonara game since 1988, earned the 22-year veteran the MVP award as well.
"I was the one on the bench who was relaxing the most," said Yamasaki, who added that PL skipper Masataka Nashida, of Nippon Ham, told him to get ready to go against Hanshin hold specialist Tomoyuki Kubota (0-1).
"Honestly, they put me up in that situation, so I just wanted to get the job done," said Yamasaki, who became the fourth player to win the All-Star MVP award in both leagues.
"It's not easy to get the MVP, so I'm really happy about this. I haven't been doing all that well so far, so maybe this will help me pick things up in the second half of the season," said Yamasaki, who was the MVP in the second game of the 2000 series while with the Chunichi Dragons.
The win stopped the Central's six-game All-Star winning streak and made the overall series record 74-67-8 in favor of the PL.
"I guess we stopped their streak," a smiling Nashida said after the win. "I don't know what to say about that. But we have a good team--their combined annual salaries would be incredible."
The winning rally came off Kubota after Hanshin closer Kyuji Fujikawa had tossed a quiet eighth inning. Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara, the CL manager, had decided to reverse the order to get Fujikawa into Game 1.
"You never know what's going to happen and I wanted to use Kyuji today and I sent him out in the eighth," said Hara, adding that if Kubota had allowed anything across in the eighth, Fujikawa would not have had a save chance.
The CL squad looked poised to win the game after taking a 4-3 lead with three runs in the seventh.
Chunichi cleanup man Tyrone Woods kicked off the frame with a double off Seibu's Kazuyuki Hoashi. Yomiuri star Alex Ramirez followed with a single to right field, and Woods scooted home on Hanshin slugger Tomoaki Kanemoto's RBI blooper that dropped just inside the line in left.
It was Kanemoto's second hit of the game and he was looking like the MVP after also making a throw to gun down a runner at second in the fourth inning.
But the PL rallied in the ninth after Tohoku Rakuten's Rick Short opened the frame with a double. Chiba Lotte's Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled with one out to make it first and third, and pinch-hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka tied the score with an RBI single to right.
That set up Yamasaki's heroics.
Orix's Daisuke Kato (1-0) got the win, but Shogo Yamamoto won the best pitcher award for two perfect innings.
Kanemoto was named the top hitter, while Matsunaka's game-tying single earned him the award for the best play.
The Central squad can try and start a new streak today at 6:10 p.m. at Yokohama Stadium, when Chunichi's Kenshin Kawakami starts against Rakuten's Hisashi Iwakuma in Game 2.
In other baseball news:
-- Kazuhiro Kiyohara, the Orix Buffaloes slugger who has been sidelined since 2007 spring training, will be activated on Sunday.
Orix's acting manager Daijiro Oishi said Thursday that the former Yomiuri Giants and Seibu Lions superstar is finally ready to return from surgery on his left knee.