MLB Teams Struggle Against NPB in Tokyo

The JapanBall tour of the MLB Opening Series in Tokyo continued on March 26 with another day/night doubleheader, with the early contest pitting the Oakland A’s against the Hanshin Tigers. Unlike Hanshin’s exhibition against Ichiro and the Mariners the previous day, the Tigers’ generally large and boisterous oendan (fan club) was sparse. It could’ve been the noon start on a Monday, but it’s most likely attributed to the Tigers’ opponent being the Ichiro-less A’s.

The lack of noise in the Tokyo Dome didn’t bother the Tigers, as they jumped all over Oakland starter Tyson Ross early, scoring seven runs in the first three innings. Tigers third baseman Takahiro Arai started the scoring with a 2-run home run in the bottom of the first, and the Tigers rolled to a 12-6 win over the major league team.

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Hanshin Tigers third baseman Takahiro Arai

Once again the “other” Suzuki visiting Japan, A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki, hit a home run, this one a 3-run shot off former Seattle Mariners pitcher Randy Messenger, cutting Hanshin’s lead to 7-4. With Oakland GM Billy Beane in the stands – seated across the aisle from the JapanBall members – the rally fell short.

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A’s General Manager Billy Beane

Game two was what everyone in Japan wanted to see. A crowd of 43,759 – just shy of Tokyo Dome’s capacity of 45,600 – politely waited in orderly lines outside the stadium for their chance to get a glimpse of Ichiro as the Yomiuri Giants hosted the Seattle Mariners.

Seattle manager Eric Wedge put three Japanese players in the lineup: Ichiro, shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, and starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.

Iwakuma, who joined the Mariners in January of this year after 12 seasons with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Rakuten Golden Eagles of NPB, had a disappointing outing, going four innings and surrendering six runs on ten hits.

With 43,759 cameras snapping pictures of his every move, Ichiro went 0 for 5 with an RBI groundout that scored Dustin Ackley, who had a solo home run and a triple.

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Ichiro prepares for his first at-bat against the Giants

The Giants were held to two hits in their 5-0 loss to the Oakland A’s on Sunday, but their bats came alive against Iwakuma and the Seattle relievers. Yomiuri finished the game with 14 hits and won 9-3. D.J. Houlton, in his first season with the Giants after four seasons and a Japan Series championship with the SoftBank Hawks, was the winning pitcher.

The NPB teams won both exhibition games in Tokyo Dome on Monday with American pitchers on the mound, while Seattle lost with a Japanese starter.

Even if you think the exhibition games are just that – exhibitions with no bearing on the regular season – it’s hard to argue that the Mariners and A’s still have work to do for the 2012 MLB season, which officially begins tonight in Tokyo.