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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Matsunaka powers PL to win

Staff writer

HIROSHIMA — Takeya Nakamura won the home run derby that was held before the All-Star Game in Hiroshima.

News photo
Back-to-back shots: Softbank Hawks slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka hits a home run for the second straight at-bat in the sixth inning during the second game of the NPB All-Star Series at Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima on Saturday. The Pacific League beat the Central League 7-4. KYODO PHOTO

Nobuhiko Matsunaka won the one that went on during it.

The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks star homered twice, including a go-ahead two-run shot in the sixth inning, and Orix Buffaloes pitcher Chihiro Kaneko averted a major disaster to help the Pacific League win the second game of the 2009 All-Star Series 7-4 on Saturday at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium.

The Hawks slugger was named the All-Star MVP for the first time in his career following his big night.

"I figured a had a chance to win the MVP after hitting two home runs," Matsunaka said. "It feels good to show the fans my home run power."

The win gives the PL an overall 75-69-8 advantage in All-Star competition.

Matsunaka struck first with a game-tying solo homer in the fourth, then connected on his go-ahead blast in his next trip to the plate. He nearly had a third homer, hitting a ball in the eighth that was caught at the warning track.

"My son is here, so I was especially happy to hit a couple of homers in front of him," said Matsunaka, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

The NPB's best turned Hiroshima's new ballpark into a launching pad, with the two teams combining to hit five homers.

Seibu third baseman Nakamura also homered, hitting a solo shot that would've left the stadium if not for a net behind the right-field seats. Chiba Lotte's Saburo Omura, and Tokyo Yakult's Shinya Miyamoto accounted for the game's other home runs.

Chunichi's Hirokazu Ibata had a big night at the plate for the CL, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. Ibata was named the game's best batter.

Matsunaka's go-ahead homer was good news for pitcher Toshiya Sugiuchi, as it put the Softbank lefty in line to earn the win. Sugiuchi gave up one run on eight hits over two innings. Dragons pitcher Kazuki Yoshimi took the loss.

Sugiuchi may have gotten the win, but Kaneko was the PL's real star on the mound, giving up two hits over three scoreless innings.

Nursing a one-run lead, Kaneko gave up a single to Hanshin's Tomoaki Kanemoto and a double to Hiroshima's Kenta Kurihara to lead off the sixth. Kaneko retired the next three batters in order to escape from a dicey situation with the lead intact and was later awarded with the game's Best Pitcher award.

Some fans on the third-base side got closer to the action than expected when Game 1 MVP and Swallows star Norichika Aoki sent a ball sailing into foul territory during the fifth.

Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima gave chase and caught the ball before running into and flipping over the barrier between the field and the seats. Nakajima earned the Best Play award.

The CL got off to a quick start in the first courtesy of a leadoff double by Ibata and a two-out run-scoring single off the bat of his Dragons teammate Tony Blanco.

PL home-run leader Nakamura responded with a solo homer deep to left — crushing a fastball from Hiroshima's Kan Otake — to tie the score at 1-1 in the top of the second.

Ibata doubled in a run in the bottom half to put the CL back on top, but Matsunaka's first homer of the night tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth.

The seesaw battle continued after the CL regained the lead on Miyamoto's solo drive in the bottom of the fourth, only to have Omura answer with a tying shot to lead off the fifth.

Matsunaka broke the tie with his homer to right in the sixth and the PL padded the lead with a two insurance runs in the ninth.

Chunichi's Masahiro Araki drove in a run in the ninth off Marines reliever Brian Sikorski, who went on to close out the game.

Padilla has swine flu

KANSAS CITY , Mo. (AP) Texas Rangers pitcher Vicente Padilla tested positive for swine flu, though his symptoms are subsiding and he's expected to make his next start.

Padilla was scratched from his start Wednesday against Boston due to flulike symptoms, and lab reports Friday indicated he had H1N1 Type A influenza. He is thought to be the first athlete in U.S. major pro sports to be diagnosed with swine flu.

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