With the King of Pop blasting through the sound system, the Yomiuri Giants reminded the Tokyo Yakult Swallows why they’ve been wearing the crown in the Central League for two years and running.
The Giants won a battle of the league’s top two teams by defeating the Swallows 7-2 in a 15-hit romp on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“We were able to play this game at our pace and stay in control throughout,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “It was a good start to the series.”
Hayato Sakamoto and Michihiro Ogasawara each drove in two runs, and starter Dicky Gonzalez helped his own cause with an RBI as the Giants moved three games ahead of the second-place Swallows in the CL standings.
Swallows starter Shohei Tateyama was off his game for most of the night, allowing seven runs — six earned — on 14 hits over six innings. He took the loss, snapping his streak of 14 consecutive winning decisions. Tateyama, 8-1 this season, had not lost since last August.
“Tateyama is a good pitcher,” Sakamoto said. “But we were not thinking about his winning streak, just trying to do the best we can and whatever it takes to win.”
Sakamoto was on base four times, going 3-for-4 with a walk to set the pace for Yomiuri. Ogasawara finished 2-for-5 and hit a two-run homer in the sixth to tie former Giants star Hideki Matsui for the most home runs hit in Tokyo Dome history with 146.
“Gonzalez did a great job pitching and hitting, then we got the home runs from Lee (Seung Yeop) and Ogasawara to put the game away,” Hara said.
Gonzalez (7-1), meanwhile, was in control for most of the night, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out six in 5 2/3 innings.
“When we play a team like this that is only two games behind, we have to play hard,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez was facing his old team for the first time since moving to Yomiuri in the offseason. Gonzalez spent the first five years of his Japanese baseball career with the Swallows.
“I was working hard and I really wanted to beat the Swallows,” Gonzalez said. “I respect them, I was there for five years. I hope we can win these three games.”
The win was his first since June 5, having suffered a loss and a no-decision in his last two outings since winning his first six starts with the team.
“I could not win my last two games, but I hope to win a lot more games for the Giants and even though I had great fans behind me for five years, I’ve never had fans like (these Giants) fans, ” Gonzalez said.
The Yomiuri starter warmed up on the mound and entered the batter’s box to the sounds of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” a subtle nod by the team to the iconic pop star’s passing earlier in the day. Jackson’s music, often played during batting practice, also filled the Big Egg between innings.
Gonzalez opened the scoring in the second, lining a single into shallow left to put Yomiuri ahead 1-0. Left fielder Shinichi Takeuchi made a fielding error on the play which allowed Shigeyuki Furuki to advance from first to third. Sakamoto made Yakult pay with an RBI single that doubled the Yomiuri advantage.
Swallows center fielder Norichika Aoki cut the lead in half in the third, following consecutive singles by Takeuchi and Hiroyasu Tanaka with an RBI single.
Furuki was awarded first after being hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth, prompting a four-minute argument by Swallows manager Shigeru Takada. The skipper was arguing, to no avail, that Furuki leaned into the pitch in an attempt at being hit.
The Giants benefited from Furuki’s good fortunes again, as the second baseman advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and was driven home by Sakamoto’s second RBI single of the night. Alex Ramirez singled in a run later in the inning to make the score 4-1.
The Giants added their fifth run of the night on a Lee homer to right in the fifth, his 13th of the season.
Yakult scored a run in the sixth on Shinya Miyamoto’s RBI single to pull within three runs of the CL leaders before Ogasawara’s blast in the bottom half of the inning.
The Swallows entered the three-game set with a chance to overtake the Giants in the standings if they could pull off a three-game sweep. Now the best they can hope for is to leave the Big Egg one game back if they can manage wins in each of the next two games.
The Giants, of course, have other ideas.
“This is a big three-game series,” Sakamoto said. “So it was important for us to win the first game.”
Tigers 9, BayStars 4
Dragons 3, Carp 2
Lions 10, Hawks 4
Fighters 5, Marines 0
Buffaloes 3, Eagles 1