As soon as wood met rawhide, Alex Ramirez threw his arms up in celebration.
There was no doubt about this one.
Ramirez hit a towering three-run home run that caromed off the back wall of Tokyo Dome in the first inning and pushed him over 100 RBIs for a record-breaking eighth straight season in the Yomiuri Giants’ 10-4 win over the Chunichi Dragons on Thursday.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew the ball was gone,” Ramirez said. “So I gave my reaction.”
Ramirez didn’t rest on his laurels for very long, connecting on a two-run shot in the seventh. Ramirez ended his night 3-for-4 with five RBIs. The home runs were his 40th and 41st of the year and mark the third time he’s surpassed 40 in Japan.
“I’m happy to hit No. 40 and 41 today,” Ramirez said. “I’ll do my best to try to hit 50 this season.”
Yomiuri’s Hayato Sakamoto homered twice and Hisayoshi Chono and Michihiro Ogasawara also went deep — all in the first two innings — as the Giants battered Dragons starter Kazuki Yoshimi to move back into first place in the Central League.
“This game was huge for us,” Ramirez said. “The guys came through. Sakamoto, he started the (first) inning with a home run and (Tetsuya) Utsumi pitched a great game. It was a total team effort today. We showed what the Giants can do. Hopefully we can continue playing this way.
“It’s not going to be easy from now on. As long as we worry about ourselves and try to win and not worry about the other teams, I think we’re going to be OK.”
The Giants ended the night with six home runs, but Ramirez’s blast in the first was the biggest of all. Prior to the the game, only Ramirez and NPB legend Sadaharu Oh had recorded at least 100 RBIs in seven straight seasons.
Ramirez stepped to the plate against Yoshimi in the first inning with 99 RBIs and runners on second and third. He took the first pitch for a ball then sent the second screaming toward the farthest reaches of the left-field side of the Big Egg.
Sakamoto hit his 25th and 26th homers of the year and finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
“I don’t think of myself as a home-run hitter,” Sakamoto said. “As the leadoff man, I’m just trying to get on base.”
Chono’s solo shot was his 18th of the year for the rookie, who was 2-for-4. Ogasawara finished 2-for-3 and drove in a run.
Utsumi pitched with a big lead for most of the night to win for the first time since June 24. Utsumi (8-6) threw a complete game, allowing three runs on 11 hits and striking out six.
“My pitching wasn’t that great,” Utsumi said. “But I got a lot of run support.”
Yoshimi (11-7) threw a shutout in his last start against the Giants but didn’t make it to the third inning on Thursday. He gave up seven runs on seven hits, including five home runs, in two innings on the mound.
“Today he was leaving some balls on top of the plate, and we were very aggressive,” Ramirez said of Yoshimi. “Before we were taking those pitches. Today we were very aggressive and we took advantage of a lot of mistakes he was making.”
Carp top Tigers
OSAKA (Kyodo) Masato Akamatsu drove in two runs, Eric Stults pitched one-run ball over 8 1/3 innings and the Hiroshima Carp beat the Hanshin Tigers 6-1 on Thursday.
With the loss, Hanshin fell out of first place one night after moving atop the standings.
The Tigers struggled against Stults (5-9), who allowed six hits, struck out five and walked none and used his changeup effectively to silence Hanshin’s bats.
The Tigers’ Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (6-7) lasted 4 2/3 innings.
BayStars 9, Swallows 3
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Shuichi Murata went 3-for-5 with an RBI and Terrmel Sledge hit a two-run homer as Yokohama snapped a four-game losing skid with a win over Tokyo Yakult.
Hitoshi Fujie (2-2) allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Yoshinori Sato (9-7) recorded the fastest pitch by a Japanese pitcher when he clocked one at 161 kph against Sledge in the fifth. Sledge homered to center to key a five-run ninth.
Giants closer Marc Kroon holds the Japanese record for the fastest pitch at 162 kph.
Marines 2, Lions 1
At Chiba Marine Stadium, Yuki Karakawa (6-3) limited the damage to one run in eight innings, leading the way for Chiba Lotte in a three-game sweep of Seibu, which slipped out of first place with its sixth loss in a row.
Ikuhiro Kiyota hit a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. Hiroyuki Kobayashi pitched a perfect ninth for his 24th save. Shuichiro Osada (4-2) took the loss.
Buffaloes at Hawks — late