The Yomiuri Shimbun NAGOYA — Perhaps no one better epitomizes the role of leadoff hitter in the Pacific League than Shogo Akiyama of the Saitama Seibu Lions.
Akiyama made his mark with both his bat and legs from the top spot in the batting order to help the PL defeat the Central League 6-2 in the opening game of All-Star Series on Friday night at Nagoya Dome.
Akiyama led off the game with the first of three PL home runs, then later scored the tie-breaking run on a single by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ Seiichi Uchikawa that sparked a three-run eighth inning.
Among the glut of power-hitting outfielders in the PL, Akiyama has stood out enough to be selected by fan balloting for the series.
And less than one minute into Friday’s game, he responded by sending the second pitch, a high fastball from CL starter Raul Valdes of the host Chunichi Dragons, the opposite way into the left-field stands.
“It was an unintended victory,” Akiyama said of his shot, which made him the ninth player in All-Star history to lead off the first inning with a home run. “Even I’m surprised that it went that far.”
Akiyama showed his skill and speed in the eighth inning. With the score tied 2-2 and one out, he managed to get enough wood on a low, inside slider from Hanshin Tigers reliever Marcos Mateo to send a hard shot back to the box that hit off the pitcher for an infield single.
Akiyama then stole second, which put him in position to score on Uchikawa’s two-out single to center. While Uchikawa took home the MVP award, Akiyama was an undisputed choice for one of the honorable mention awards.
Through the first half of the season, Akiyama already has a career-high 16 home runs — although it is not something he has aimed for.
“Long balls are like a drug,” Akiyama said. “The feeling of hitting the ball far stays with you, and has a bad influence on the next at-bat.”
In essence, home runs are just well-hit balls that get extended distance for the 29-year-old, who holds the Japan pro record for hits in a season.