Koji Uehara returned to the Yomiuri Giants’ starting rotation against the Yokohama BayStars on Thursday night.
His teammates made sure he got one heck of a homecoming.
Michihiro Ogasawara, Alex Ramirez and Yoshitomo Tani homered in consecutive at-bats in the first inning to back Uehara in the Giants’ 7-1 win against the BayStars in front of a crowd of 40,561 at Tokyo Dome.
“I was happy to give the team the lead in my first at-bat and set the tone for tonight’s game,” Ogasawara said. “Today’s win was special because we could back up Uehara in his first start in a long time.”
Making his first start since April 26, the Yomiuri starter threw 82 pitches over five innings, allowing a run and striking out three.
Uehara (3-4) had a terrible run of form during the season’s first month, going 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA through his first five starts. He was sent to the ni-gun (farm) team on April 27 and two months later put up mixed results when he returned as a reliever.
Despite his struggles, Uehara was named to the Olympic team on July 18 and responded by striking out 12 over 7 1/3 scoreless innings of relief from July 23-29 before leaving for Beijing.
He got off to a shaky start against Yokohama, giving up three hits, including a run on an RBI double by Seiichi Uchikawa, in the first inning. Uehara settled down as the game went on and kept the BayStars off the scoreboard over the next four innings.
“I think the fans were happy to see Uehara as a starter again, and he pitched well,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “I look forward to his next outing.”
Uchikawa went on to have a 4-for-4 night at the plate with an RBI for Yokohama. The Central League batting leader raised his average to .371.
BayStars starter Dave Williams got off to a rough beginning as well, giving up a leadoff single to Yoshiyuki Kamei before giving up the back-to-back-to-back shots to Ogasawara, Ramirez and Tani.
“Our cleanup trio came through with those three home runs in a row in the first inning,” Hara said.
Williams (2-2) didn’t make it past the first inning and took the loss after allowing four runs on five hits.
The Giants added two more runs in the fifth on an RBI single by Shinnosuke Abe and a sacrifice fly from Tomohiro Nioka off reliever Shigetoshi Yamakita to make the score 6-1.
Ogasawara closed out the scoring with an RBI double in the sixth.
With the BayStars vanquished, the Giants now turn their attention to a crucial series with the first-place Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium. Yomiuri trails Hanshin by seven games.
“We’re hot now, with four consecutive victories,” Ogasawara said. “So we’ll do our best at Koshien and try to move closer to the Tigers in the standings.”
The CL’s top two teams are scheduled to begin their three-game set tonight at 6 p.m.
“Yes, the Tigers . . . ” Hara began. “I expect three tough games, but we’ll take them one at a time and hope to continue the winning streak.”
Carp beat Swallows
At Hiroshima Stadium, Kenta Kurihara hit a tiebreaking solo homer in the sixth inning to lift the Carp over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 3-2.
Kazuhiro Hatakeyama homered to put the Swallows ahead 2-1 in the fourth, only to see Hiroshima tie the game in the bottom half on an Eishin Soyogi RBI double and take the lead for good with Kurihara’s shot, making a winner of Kan Otake (7-11).
Tigers 6, Dragons 5
Lions 5, Eagles 4
At Seibu Dome, Hiram Bocachica homered twice and Fumiya Nishiguchi pitched 6 2/3 effective innings as the front-running Lions held off Tohoku Rakuten.
Alex Graman worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to get his 25th save after the Seibu bullpen nearly blew the lead.
Hawks 3, Buffaloes 2
At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, pinch hitter Mitsuru Homma drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run single in a three-run eighth inning and Nagisa Arakaki pitched eight strong innings as Softbank rallied to beat Orix.
Marines 3, Fighters 0
At Chiba Marine Stadium, Tomoya Satozaki and Toshiaki Imae homered and Naoyuki Shimizu threw a two-hit shutout as Lotte blanked Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
A Julio Zuleta first-inning RBI single got the Marines on the scoreboard prior to the home runs by Satozaki and Imae in the second and fifth, respectively, both off Shugo Fujii (2-7). Shimizu (10-8) reached double-digit wins for the first time in two seasons.