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Nakamura feasts on CL's All-Star pitching

by John E. Gibson (Jul 24, 2011)

Saitama Seibu Lions slugger Takeya Nakamura, the man they call "Mr. Second Helping," couldn't get enough, and the Pacific League had just enough to win Saturday's Game 2 of the All-Star series.

The PL survived a hit-filled ninth inning to hold off the Central Leaguers 4-3 before 27,311 at QVC Marine Field, bouncing back after a loss in the opener of the three-game midsummer classic series.

Nakamura, who leads Japan with 26 longballs, was named MVP after socking two homers and driving in three runs.

"I can't swing like this during regular-season games," said Nakamura, who won the pregame homer derby, hitting two out in the final round after Tokyo Yakult Swallows first-year import Wladimir Balentien had just one.

"I usually never square up a ball that well, ever," he said of his first shot, which clanked off the back wall in left.

"My plan is to look to hit the ball out on every swing in every at-bat. If I play in tomorrow's game, I'm going to take full swings again," said the 10th-year slugger, whose Lions are struggling at the bottom of the PL and in the midst of a nine-game skid.

The four-time All-Star went deep with a man on in the first inning off loser Shohei Tateyama (0-1) of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He led off the fourth inning with a shot off Chunichi Dragons ace Kazuki Yoshimi. Nakamura flied out to left in his third trip to the plate and fanned in the eighth.

The CL had the PL players fanning themselves in a thrilling ninth when it mounted a comeback off Japan saves leader Hisashi Takeda of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Hisayoshi Chono of the Yomiuri Giants flew out deep to right to start the frame, but Chunichi's Hirokazu Ibata beat out an infield single to third and went to second on a throwing error.

The Giants' Hayato Sakamoto, who was named outstanding player after he homered and drove in two, singled up the middle to pull the CL to within a run. With two outs, Balentien cracked a double to right, but Yomiuri pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi--in the role of third base coach--put up the stop sign and Sakamoto slammed on the brakes.

Six pitches later, Takeda induced a weak flyout to left from the Yokohama BayStars' Naoto Watanabe to end the game.

"The timing there was kind of iffy," said Sakamoto, defending his pitcher for throwing up the stop sign in that situation. Instead, the four-time All-Star focused on his day, in which he went 3-for-5 and took Seibu's rookie submariner Kazuhisa Makita deep in the fifth inning.

"His slide step was messing up my timing, so I'm glad I was able to hit a home run off him in the end," Sakamoto said. "It was fun to face him."

The PL took a 3-0 lead on Nakamura's shots. But Sakamoto drilled a home run for his first RBI in a midsummer classic to put the CL on the board in the fifth.

Game 1 MVP Kazuhiro Hatakeyama of the Swallows moved the Central Stars within a run when he singled home Yokohama slugger Shuichi Murata after his one-out double.

But Makita kept the CL from getting even, retiring Yakult's Shinya Miyamoto to end the inning.

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks star Seiichi Uchikawa ripped a pinch-hit RBI double to left in the seventh for the run that proved to be the difference, making the lead 4-2.

Hometown hero Yuki Karakawa (1-0) of the Chiba Lotte Marines got the start and the win in his All-Star debut. The right-hander kept the CL off the scoreboard despite allowing four hits over his two innings, including a line drive by Sakamoto that whistled past his head and into center for a single to open the game.

"I'm usually shaky at the start of games, so that was typical for me," said the fourth-year starter. "I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of the All-Star game and I was able to do that, in part because I was pitching at home."

Nakamura's longball feat came a day after the CL set an All-Star record with four homers in one inning--the fifth inning of Friday's 9-4 victory at Nagoya Dome. The blasts all came off Nippon Ham starter Masaru Takeda, Japan's ERA leader.

The lefty also allowed a record eight consecutive hits and left after serving up nine runs in 1-1/3 innings.

Giants rookie Hirokazu Sawamura, the last man named to the CL roster through the Plus One Internet ballot, surrendered a run in two innings of work. Yomiuri reliever Yuya Kubo followed with a scoreless eighth.


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