Major League Baseball sent a contingent of stars to Japan this month to take on a combination of different teams throughout the country. Game one was early this morning, and unless you were watching baseball before 8 AM you might have missed out on the action.
Representing the Rays on this trip are Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and reliever Jeff Beliveau, who is expected to receive a full time roll with the Rays this season after 24 innings and one save last year. This morning he notched his second.
MLB had scored often, starting in the fourth inning against the combined forces of Hanshin-Yomiuri. Puig plating Cano on a single, fun stuff like that, but the game really broke open the following frame. With the bases loaded (by Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler, and Alcides Escobar), Evan Longoria went golfing on the first pitch he saw from Yuki Egarashi. The ball carried to a deep center field wall and tucked right behind it.
If we were scoring for the record, it would be Longoria's fourth career grand slam, and the even was no simple task. In the prior at bat, Robinson Cano struck out swinging, but Longo read the pitch all the way and represented well.
The setting was a strange one, for any of those who didn't see. The entire infield was covered in dirt, the logos on the wall were giant block symbols of Japanese writing in a stadium that was less colorful than I imagined. The fans clapped and chanted in rhythm, and waved inflatables throughout the stands and cheered their Japanese players within striking distance.
Fast forward to the ninth inning, where the score is nearly level at 8-7, in favor of MLB's All-Stars.
Ben Zobrist hit a one out single off Kohei Shibata, and Eduardo Nunez followed suit, but Lucas Duda and Carlos Santana each went down swinging. The one run ball game was the bullpen's to lose.
Jose Veras returned to the mound for MLB, walked a man then allowed a single up the middle. Veras gathered himself for a strikeout of Kano - that's Keisuke Kano - but got erratic, including a passed ball and another walk. Manager John Farrell then called upon his Rays reliever.
Jeff Beliveau was suddenly thrust into an exciting moment, when I'm not sure he expected to pitch at all on the flight. In the bullpen, Beliveau is flanked by some veteran names (Guthrie, Morales, Choate), but much had the staff had been cycled through. Furthermore, this game would be limited to just nine innings.
The final two outs were Beliveau's, win or lose or tie.
Tetsuya Matsumoto stepped in for the first batter faced, sporting a batting stance I can only assume Kevin Yukilis infected the island nation with when he played over seas last season. Matsumoto quickly popped up sky high, enough that a runner could have tried for the score.
The Japanese coaches were having none of it, and let Dexter Fowler rifle home from mid-center for what probably would have been a close call, as the ball skipped and took Dodger backup catcher Drew Butera to the first base side of home plate.
It was down to the right handed Yasuyuki Kataoka, and despite his handedness advantage of batting righty against Beliveau, it was pretty clear that enough movement on the pitches would give MLB the win. This guy looked like he was swinging with a banjo, with minimal bat speed but decent strength. He would foul off a couple the opposite way before Beliveau got him swinging.
Beliveau saves the day!
MLB has one more game in Osaka, where they played this morning, before three games in Tokyo and two more elsewhere on the island. If the Rays key up more excitement, we'll fill you in!