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Murata goes deep to help rookie Kobayashi hold down Hiroshima

by Kaz Nagatsuka

YOKOHAMA — The Yokohama BayStars had flown out seven times until Shuichi Murata finally made it over the fence.

Murata belted a two-run go-ahead homer in the sixth inning and rookie pitcher Futoshi Kobayashi tossed seven solid innings of one-run ball as Yokohama edged the Hiroshima Carp 3-1 at Yokohama Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

With the win, Yokohama (6-17) won its first three-game series of the 2008 campaign.

“It’s really a shame that we’ve finally gone 2-1 in a series,” Yokohama manager Akihiko Oya said after the game, which was seen by a crowd of 19,850. “But now we can look ahead with some hope.”

One day after the Carp grabbed a 2-1 win, the teams staged another can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it pitcher’s duel.

While Kobayashi (1-0) scattered six hits with a mixture of fastballs and changeups over seven innings, Carp starting southpaw Takahiro Aoki was just as solid, capitalizing on his off-speed curveball and changeup. Aoki (0-1) yielded eight hits and two earned runs in five innings.

“I thought I wasn’t going to be nervous but I couldn’t be cool at the beginning,” said Kobayashi, who was designated to be the starter for the game on the previous day. “But manager and (pitching coach Akio) Saito-san gave me some advice and I was able to pitch low after that.”

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, veteran shortstop Takuro Ishii led off with a single to left with no outs, setting the table for Murata.

Murata, who had flown out twice in two previous at-bats, smacked Aoki’s gopher changeup down the middle of the zone into the bleachers in left-center, which were filled with red-clothed Carp fans, for his sixth homer of the season to put Yokohama ahead 2-1.

“Kobayashi was doing a great job for a rookie, being aggressive against his opposing batters,” Murata said. “So I wanted to help him out by any means.”

Murata, last year’s Central League home run king (36), had been struggling with the longball before Sunday’s game. His last dinger came against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on April 16, when he went yard twice.

“At batting practice, I couldn’t really hit the ball far,” Murata said. “And I was wondering how I should do. But I reached a conclusion that you’ve got to have the right mechanics to make the ball go further.”

Said Oya: “I know Murata was struggling. But I’m relieved that he had one today.”

First baseman Seiichi Uchikawa ensured the win by driving in another run with his two-out RBI single off reliever Hideki Kishimoto in the eighth.

“The run was huge,” Oya said smiling.

Oya gave the fans a bit of a surprise in the game’s final moments by sending Hayato Terahara, a starting pitcher, to the mound as a closer in the ninth.

Terahara, 1-3 as a starter this season, allowed a single to catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara after retiring two batters, but got pinch hitter Tomonori Maeda to ground out to safely end the game and receive his first save since his rookie year with the Daiei Hawks and the second of his NPB career.

“I was told (that he may used as a reliever) yesterday,” Terahara said. ” I’m sticking with a starter’s role. But manager has an intention to do this and I was convinced to take the job.”

Kobayashi (1-0), who was selected by the BayStars in the first round of last fall’s draft for college and industrial players, picked up a memorable first win of his professional career.

“(Pacific League rookies) are really doing great, so I wanted to come through as quickly as possible,” he said. “I wasn’t on the top-flight team on opening day and came in a bit late. But with today’s win, I feel like I’ve finally taken a start.”