The Yomiuri Giants began the first night of the Central League season with a celebration and they weren’t about to let the Tokyo Yakult Swallows spoil their fun.
Starter Tetsuya Utsumi was in total control on the mound, Shinnosuke Abe drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, and Yoshinobu Takahashi made a triumphant return as the Giants won 4-1 in front of a crowd of 44,315 on Opening Day at Tokyo Dome.
Utsumi started the game on fire, slicing through the Yakult lineup early and not allowing a hit until Hiroyasu Tanaka’s leadoff single in the fourth. He struck out 10 and allowed one run on four hits to pick up the win for the defending Japan Series champions.
The left-hander said his goal for the season was 20 wins and he might get there with a few more nights like he had in the opener.
“If I can keep pitching like this, I believe wins will follow,” Utsumi said. “So I’d like to stay in good condition.”
Utsumi was challenged by the Giants’ coaching staff to produce a big season, and he’s determined to be the team’s top pitcher.
“I started this year with the intention of being the Giants’ ace,” Utsumi said. “Today’s game was my first hurdle and I’m pretty pleased I could get the win.”
Takahashi was back in the Opening Day lineup after missing all but one game of the 2009 season.
“I was a little nervous and emotional when the game started but was able to settle down as the game went on,” Takahashi said. “I missed all of last year but expect to play all of this year to make up for my lost season.”
He got the nod at first base, instead of at his familiar spot in right field, and finished 1-for-3 including a game-tying RBI single in the fourth.
“That was a great start for him,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “He did not have any problems at first base and swung the bat like the old Takahashi.”
Abe finished 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs while Alex Ramirez (2-for-4) also drove in a run. Tetsuya Matsumoto had a big night as well, going 3-for-5 with a stolen base and two runs scored.
Swallows rookie Takahiro Araki started the game at shortstop, becoming the first rookie fielder to start a game for the Swallows in 40 years. Former third baseman Kuniaki Nakamura, whose rookie year was in 1970, was the last.
Araki, starting in place of the injured Keizo Kawashima, was 0-for-3.
Celebrated Giants rookie Hisayoshi Chono also made his debut, coming on in the ninth as a defensive replacement. Chono did not make a plate appearance.
Swallows hurler Masanori Ishikawa took the loss, giving up four runs on 10 hits with five walks and four strikeouts.
“I was too cautious today,” Ishikawa said.
Giants closer Marc Kroon worked the ninth to earn the save.
Despite Utsumi’s early dominance, the Swallows found themselves in good position after putting runners on first and second with one away and Aaron Guiel at the plate in the top of the fourth.
Guiel hit a grounder to first that Takahashi fielded and threw to shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who was covering second, for an out. Looking to turn two, Sakamoto made an errant throw to first, allowing the lead runner to score.
Giants outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei flew out to start the bottom half of the inning, but three straight Yomiuri hits, including Takahashi’s RBI single, evened the score at 1-1.
Matsumoto set the pace by leading off the fifth with a single and Ramirez and Edgar Gonzalez drew walks to load the bases later in the inning. Abe then broke the tie with his two-run single to center, putting the Giants on top 3-1.
Matsumoto was at it again in the sixth, recording a one-out single and a stolen base to give the Giants a runner in scoring position. Ramirez drove him in with a single through the left side to increase the hosts’ lead to 4-1.
The two teams will meet in the second game of their three-game series on Saturday at Tokyo Dome with the first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m.
Carp top Dragons
At Nagoya Dome, Kenta Kurihara had a two-run single among his two hits and Kenta Maeda threw eight innings of one-run ball, leading the Hiroshima Carp to a 3-1 win over the Chunichi Dragons on Friday in the Central League.
Kurihara singled to right off Kazuki Yoshimi (0-1) with one out and runners on second and third in the first inning.
Maeda (1-0) retired the first 13 batters before giving up a solo homer to Kazuhiro Wada in the fifth. The right-hander also helped his own cause with an RBI single in the fourth.
Tigers 7, BayStars 3
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Kenji Johjima went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and Kodai Sakurai hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in a five-run fourth as Hanshin rallied to beat Yokohama.
Johjima had two-run doubles in the fourth and seventh innings. Yuya Ando (1-0) allowed three runs and six hits in five innings.
Shunichi Murata hit a solo homer and an RBI double in his first at-bats, helping the BayStars to a 3-0 lead through the top of the fourth.
Marines 9, Fighters 1
At Chiba Marine Stadium, Takashi Ogino, Tomoya Satozaki and Tsuyoshi Nishioka each hit two-run homers and Yoshihisa Naruse threw one-run ball over eight innings as Chiba Lotte beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham for its third consecutive win.
Buffaloes 16, Hawks 1
At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Alex Cabrera went 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Kazuki Kondo struck out 11 in eight solid innings as Orix routed Softbank for its fourth straight win.
Cabrera hit a two-run homer, his third in as many games, off Tsuyoshi Wada (0-1) to put the Buffaloes ahead 2-1 in the fourth inning. He added an RBI single in a four-run seventh en route to raising his batting average to .778 (7-for-9) in three games.