Shohei Ohtani hit a pair of three-run home runs, and Lars Nootbaar had two hits in their first Samurai Japan game before the World Baseball Classic, an 8-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers on Monday.
With MLB players unable to participate in earlier games due to tournament rules, Ohtani, Nootbaar and Masataka Yoshida had to wait until the team's first official tournament exhibition to take the field and left a mark on their opponents.
Nootbaar and Ohtani thrilled the packed crowd at Kyocera Dome Osaka, starting in batting practice, and did not let up once the game started.
Sosuke Genda sparked Japan's first two big innings, doubling with one out in the third and opening the scoring on Nootbaar's two-out RBI single. On-base machine Kensuke Kondo walked, and Ohtani hit a massive bomb out to center off forkball pitcher Hiroto Saiki, who thought he threw well.
"I was locating it, and it's pretty frustrating that he hit the first one he saw from me," Saiki said. "And he drove it that far with just one hand."
Ohtani struck out in his first at-bat and said he was disappointed about missing some pitches in the zone but made up for it with one swing.
"I'm not 100 percent because of jet lag, but I put a good swing on that splitter," he said.
Ohtani, whose every move all day led to cheers, egged on the fans to shout even more going forward. In batting practice, he got a huge ovation just for stepping into the cage, with the noise reaching a thunderous crescendo when he rocketed a few balls to the dome's vast upper reaches.
"(The cheers) gave me strength," he told the crowd of 33,460 in the postgame hero interview. "But it's still not enough. Please cheer in even louder and louder voices."
The Tigers got a run back against Japan starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto in the bottom of the inning when Tigers leadoff man Koji Chikamoto, who would have been a good choice for national team selection, homered.
Pitching in his Orix Buffaloes' home park, Yamamoto allowed four hits over three innings while striking out four and walking none in his final tune-up.
"Although I gave up a run, I've been able to get a feel for my pitches after trying various things," Yamamoto said.
Lefty Keiji Takahashi struck out three in a scoreless fourth for Japan before Genda, Kondo and Ohtani came back for second helpings against Hanshin's second pitcher, rookie Ren Tomita in the top of the fifth. Genda reached on an infield single, Kondo walked again, and Ohtani lined one just over the right-field wall.
Masataka Yoshida, who interrupted his first MLB spring training to play for Samurai Japan, showed a little rust in his first two at-bats. One of the hardest Japanese hitters to strike out, he went down swinging before doubling in a run off the luckless Tomita.
"The MLB players really ignited the team tonight with our ace on the mound," Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said. "Of course, they've got tremendous ability, but their focus was amazing. We have some issues still, but they helped put us on the right track."
Japan will complete its WBC preparations against the Buffaloes here on Tuesday before moving to Tokyo and playing its Pool B opener against China on Thursday.
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