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Yoshimi, red-hot Dragons defeat rival Giants in series opener

by Jason Coskrey

Kazuki Yoshimi was running on fumes when the Yomiuri Giants began chipping away at his lead.

Luckily for the Chunichi Dragons, he had enough left in the tank to get the job done . . . barely.

Timely hits helped the Dragons race out to an early lead, and Yoshimi and three relievers did just enough to help it stand up as Chunichi beat the Giants 7-4 in front of a crowd of 41,131 on Friday at Tokyo Dome.

“Especially when you’re against the Giants, you can’t say ‘we won’ until the game is over,” Dragons first baseman Tony Blanco said. “You have to play until the final out, because the Giants have some great players.”

The victory was the Dragons’ seventh over the last eight games, and leaves them alone atop the early Central League standings.

“Today I got some good run support but got in trouble in the fifth inning,” Yoshimi said. “I was just happy to end that inning and still have the lead.

“The team mood is good and we have been winning. So I’m glad I was able to keep up and win again today.”

Yoshimi was working with a five-run lead when he fell apart and allowed four runs in the fifth. After retiring Alex Ramirez to end the frame, he recorded two quick outs to start the sixth.

The lead was then nearly lost when Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe sent a ball hurtling toward the stands in left field. Disaster was averted as Abe missed a game-tying homer by a few meters and was retired by Kazuhiro Wada’s leaping catch at the wall.

Yoshimi (1-1) threw six innings and allowed four runs on six hits. He struck out six and finished with one hit batter and no walks to notch his first win of the year.

“My goal this year is to win more games than last year,” said Yoshimi, who led the CL with 16 wins in 2009.

It was reliever Takuya Asao’s turn to squirm out of a sticky situation in the eighth while clinging to a 7-4 lead. Asao gave up hits to the first two batters of the inning, bringing Ramirez to the plate.

Fortune smiled on Asao as Ramirez’s bid for a base hit up the middle resulted in a 6-4-5-4 double play that sent the two lead runners back to the dugout. First baseman Blanco helped end the inning with a nifty diving stop to rob Yoshiyuki Kamei of a hit.

“Sometimes you gotta make plays in the field, even when things are going your way,” Blanco said. “You gotta be able to help your teammate. My work with Tomas (De La Rosa) has been paying off. I’m better in the field than I was last year. He’s a good coach.”

Blanco also helped lead the charge at the plate, driving in three runs on a 3-for-5 night. Masahiko Morino went 4-for-5, including a homer, and Hirokazu Ibata, Kei Nomoto and Motonobu Tanishige each chipped in with an RBI.

“Today I had a lot of luck, Blanco said. “Sometimes you need that to survive.”

Giants starter Dicky Gonzalez (1-2) had a rough night, allowing five runs on nine hits.

Dragons reliever Akifumi Takahashi and Asao each recorded holds in one inning of relief. Closer Hitoki Iwase worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save of the year.