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Aces engage in riveting All-Star duel

The Yomiuri Shimbun

CL starter Tomoyuki Sugano, left, and PL counterpart Takahiro Norimoto both had three strikeouts in two scoreless innings of Saturday night’s All-Star Game in Chiba.

The Yomiuri Shimbun CHIBA — Rival aces from the two leagues provided a strong backdrop as the Pacific League came from behind for a second consecutive night to win 3-1 on Saturday and complete a sweep of the Central League in the two-game All-Star Series.

Tohoku Rakuten Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto combined with five other PL pitchers to hold the CL to one run on four hits at Zozo Marine Stadium as the PL won the All-Star Series for the first time in six years.

Shogo Akiyama of the Saitama Seibu Lions knocked home the tiebreaking run with a double in the fifth inning, and Alfredo Despaigne of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks had three hits, including a solo home run to tie the score in the fourth inning, to earn MVP honors.

But that all came after a showdown of fastball prowess between two of the biggest pitchers in the game: Norimoto and Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano for the CL.

Both hurlers topped 150 kph on the speed gun using fastballs as their main pitches as they shut down a strong group of opposing batters.

Norimoto, a year younger than Sugano, opened up the show by punching out former Rakuten teammate Casey McGehee (now with the Giants), who swung through a 154-kph pitch with two out in the opening inning to close out a perfect frame.

Sugano, who said prior to the game, “I’m hoping to get all my outs with just the fastball,” followed by firing three consecutive heaters at 150 kph-plus to get ahead in the count against SoftBank’s Yuki Yanagita. The righty finished Yanagita off, striking him out on a high fastball right down the middle at 153 kph.

The left-handed-hitting Yanagita swung so hard that his batting helmet flew off his head and into the opposing batter’s box.

“I wanted to give the fans something to get excited about,” Sugano said. “I think they enjoyed it.”

Norimoto tossed two perfect innings, while Sugano allowed two hits and no runs in his two innings. Both chalked up three strikeouts.

Both pitchers were on the Samurai Japan team that played in the World Baseball Classic in March.

“There’s no one I got along with better,” Sugano said of Norimoto about their time together on Samurai Japan. “He was my biggest rival, and we have mutual respect for each other.”

Kobayashi strikes back

Meanwhile, CL catcher Seiji Koba- yashi of the Giants made fans recall his big performance for Samurai Japan in the WBC.

Playing in his first All-Star series, Kobayashi slugged a home run off the Orix Buffaloes’ Chihiro Kaneko with two out in the third inning to open the scoring. He used a compact swing on the first pitch from Kaneko, and said he knew it was a homer off the bat.

Kobayashi has struggled so far in the regular season, though, hitting just .190 with zero home runs in the first half. He hit a team-leading .450 as the starting catcher in seven WBC games for Samurai Japan.Speech

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