After more than a decade of disappointing finishes, the Hiroshima Carp feel they’re ready to compete with the Central League’s best.
The Carp proved it on opening day by beating the defending CL champions at their own game.
Scott Seabol fueled a five-run fourth with a homer and the Carp got their season off to a rousing start with a 6-3 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in front of 44,124 fans on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“In anything you do I think first and last impressions are really important,” Carp manager Marty Brown said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your job or playing the game of baseball. So it was nice to play a good game of baseball.”
With Hiroshima trailing 3-1 in the fourth, Seabol followed a Kenta Kurihara single with a shot to left to tie the score. Masato Akamatsu put the Carp in front with a two-run single later in the inning and Akihiro Higashide padded the lead by driving in a run.
Seabol batted .273 in his first year with the Carp last season and they are looking for an even bigger contribution out of the third baseman this year.
“Scott’s had a good spring,” Brown said. “He came (to camp) in great shape and I really think he really appreciated the fact he came back to this team and he wants to play a big part. But he’s staying within himself too, he’s not trying to do too much. So he’s come a long way. I think he’s learned some things since the first year.”
The big inning came after the Giants had taken the lead on back-to-back homers by Michihiro Ogasawara and Alex Ramirez in the bottom of the third.
“We hadn’t given up,” Brown said. “We haven’t shown that at all this spring and actually it started last year when we started to play more consistent baseball.
“We’re going to play nine innings. We’re going to go as hard as we can for nine and there are times when teams are going to have the lead.
“But we just keep plugging along until the end of the game; we either win, we either lose and the next day we come out and do the same thing.”
Hiroshima starter Colby Lewis gave up all three Giants runs but still picked up the win. Lewis, a 15-game winner last season, allowed six hits and struck out six over six innings.
“Colby learned some things today,” Brown said. “He got the ball up in the zone. I think in his next outing he’ll be sharper.”
Relievers Mike Shultz, Ryuji Yokoyama and closer Katsuhiro Nagakawa, who earned the save, combined to pitch three scoreless innings to preserve the win.
Samurai Japan member Kenta Kurihara also had a big game for Hiroshima, finishing 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Higashide drove in a run on a 2-for-4 night.
“I joined the (WBC) team from the semifinals and received great experience under circumstances where you can’t afford to lose,” Kurihara said. “Hopefully, I can tell that to my teammates throughout the season.”
The Carp haven’t won a CL title since 1991 and last finished in the top three in 1997. Brown’s club finished two-games out of the top three, and a spot in the Climax Series, last season and many feel this will be the year they break through.
Yomiuri starter Seth Greisinger had a rough outing, allowing all six runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings.
“Our guys stayed on Greisinger and gave him some problems,” Brown said. “He stayed behind in the count and we took advantage of it.”
Ogasawara went 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs and Ramirez was also 1-for-4 in the loss. Ramirez has now homered in four of his last five opening day games.
Former MLB All-Star Edgardo Alfonzo finished 1-for-4 in his Giants debut.
Kurihara drove in the first run of the Central League season, bringing home Higashide with a single to right to make the score 1-0.
“Getting the first run was important,” Kurihara said. “This was a real team win. It’s only one game on opening day, but it gives us confidence to keep winning.”
The Giants took the lead in the third, scoring three runs on Ogasawara’s two run homer and Ramirez’s solo shot.
The Carp struck back in the next inning, tying the score on Seabol’s two-run homer to left. Shigenobu Shima and Soichiro Amaya followed with singles to put two men on for Akamatsu. The outfielder drove in both players with a single, then scored on Higashide’s single up the middle.
Tigers top Swallows
OSAKA (Kyodo) Yuya Ando threw two-run ball over seven innings en route to victory on opening day for the second year in a row and Tomoaki Kanemoto and Kentaro Sekimoto contributed with five runs between them as the Hanshin Tigers defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5-2 on Friday at Kyocera Dome.
Dragons 4, BayStars 1
At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi’s Kazuhiro Wada slugged two solo homers in a win over Yokohama.
Dragons right-hander Takuya Asao (1-0) pitched eight solid innings. He allowed five hits and struck out four.
Eagles 3, Fighters 1
At Sapporo Dome, Hisashi Iwakuma threw six solid innings to outpitch his World Baseball Classic teammate Yu Darvish as Tohoku Rakuten defeated Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Iwakuma (1-0), who formed the three-man starting rotation with Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka in Japan’s successful WBC title defense, allowed one run and six hits without walking or striking out a batter.
The Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning against Darvish.
Darvish (0-1) gave up three runs and eight hits in a complete game effort, walking none and striking out five.
Kanehisa Arime picked up the save after working two perfect innings. Rakuten made a winning start to the season for the first time since its inaugural season of 2005.
Hawks 8, Buffaloes 0
At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Nobuhiko Matsunaka went 3-for-3 with five RBIs to back a shutout gem by Tsuyoshi Wada in Softbank’s rout of Orix.
Wada (1-0) tied a career high with 14 strikeouts and threw a three-hit shutout without allowing a runner to reach second.
Lions 5, Marines 2