Masanori Ishikawa often makes runs hard to come by. On this night, the Yomiuri Giants should feel fortunate to even have gotten on base.
Ishikawa took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, before Hayato Sakamoto finally broke through, and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows defeated the Giants 4-0 in front of a crowd of 43,869 on Opening Night at Tokyo Dome.
“I was just taking it one batter at a time and pitching at my own pace,” Ishikawa said.
Ishikawa began his night by committing an error on a ball hit by Sakamoto on Yakult’s first defensive play of the game.
He retired 24 of the next 25 batters to get to the ninth having given up just a walk to Michihiro Ogasawara in the second.
“I began to think about it (possibility of a no-hitter) around the eighth inning,” Ishikawa said.
Taishi Ota began the inning by flying out to left for the first out. That brought up Sakamoto, who hit a hard liner to third that a diving Shinya Miyamoto couldn’t corral.
“I would have been good if I had caught Sakamoto’s liner,” Miyamoto said. “That would have made it really exciting.”
It was still a good night for Ishikawa, who threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing only a pair of hits and a walk.
“His command was amazing,” Swallows manager Junji Ogawa said. “He missed the no-hitter, so it’s too bad for him.”
Miyamoto began his quest for 2,000 career hits with a 3-for-4 performance that included an RBI single in the third. Miyamoto now has 1,978 career hits.
“It’s my job to get as many hits as I can,” Miyamoto said.
Yakult leadoff man Hiroyasu Tanaka finished 3-for-5 with a double and Kazuhiro Hatakeyama had a pair of hits and drove in a run. Shingo Kawabata and Wladimir Balentien finished with an RBI apiece.
The Swallows ended the game with 13 hits.
“Our hitters really did well today,” Ogawa said. “I hope we can keep it up tomorrow.”
It wasn’t a good night for Yomiuri starter Tetsuya Utsumi, who lost for the first time in three Opening Day starts. The Giants lefty gave up three runs on 12 hits, striking out five and walking one in six innings on the mound.
His problems began in the third inning with Ishikawa in the batter’s box.
Ishikawa led off the inning with a single over the outstretched glove of third baseman Shuichi Murata after being behind 0-2 in the count. Tanaka then doubled to left to put runners on second and third. After a flyout by Lastings Milledge, Hatakeyama drove in a run with a single. Kawabata and Miyamoto also singled in runs during the frame.
Sakamoto and John Bowker had the only two hits for the Giants, both coming in the ninth against Ishikawa. The Giants managed just four base runners the whole night.
“Our hitters just could not do anything tonight, and Utsumi was not his usual self,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “We lost, but this is only 1/144 of the season. We’ll be back tomorrow.”
The two teams play the second of their three-game set on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo Dome. Under a new Central League rule, the starting pitchers have already been announced.
Kyohei Muranaka gets the start for the Swallows, while 2011 Central League Rookie of the Year Hirokazu Sawamura will take the mound for the Giants.
“We lost on Opening Day last year,” Ogawa said. “So it is special to start the season with this kind of victory.”
Dragons double up Carp
Kazuki Yoshimi (1-0) had a perfect game over seven innings, Ryosuke Hirada homered and drove in two runs, and the Chunichi Dragons beat the Hiroshima Carp 4-2 on Friday.
Yoshimi (1-0) gave up two runs in eight innings of the win. Tomonori Maeda had a two-run single in the eighth for Hiroshima, but it was too little, too late. Kenta Maeda (0-1) was tagged for the loss.
BayStars 5, Tigers 5 (10)
Hawks 3, Buffaloes 1
At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Nobuhiro Matsuda homered and went 2-for-4, Tadashi Settsu yielded one unearned run in seven innings and Fukuoka Softbank started off the season on the right foot with a victory over Orix.
Matsuda put the Hawks on the scoreboard with a one-out blast to the stands in left, following a leadoff walk on four straight balls to Nobuhiko Matsunaka in the second.
Matsuda was back in the fourth to create another chance with a two-out triple off the wall in right, but Wily Mo Pena flied out to end the inning.
Yuya Hasegawa had a leadoff walk in the fifth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Yuichi Honda singled down the right field line and stole second, putting runners at second and third, before Kenji Akashi singled up the middle for the third run.
Honda, the stolen bases leader the last two years, was out on the play when he tried to score from second.
Settsu (1-0) held the Buffaloes hitless until Keiji Obiki’s one-out single in the fourth, striking out two and walking one. Alfredo Figaro (0-1) gave up three runs and five hits in five innings of the loss.
Lee Dae Ho had an RBI single in the sixth to cut Orix’s deficit, but the rally stopped there.
The Hawks could have added more damage in the sixth when they loaded the bases with two outs, but reliever Evan MacLane struck out Toru Hosokawa swinging to end the threat.
Brain Falkenborg closed out the game, striking out three in the ninth for the save.
Fighters 9, Lions 1
At Sapporo Dome, Yuki Saito limited the damage to one run over the distance to break out with a win on Opening Day, shining on the stage as Hokkaido Nippon Ham romped over Seibu in its first regular season without icon Yu Darvish.
Second-year hurler Saito (1-0) surrendered four hits, struck out seven and walked four in his first career complete game. Hideaki Wakui (0-1) was roughed up for six runs in four-plus frames.
Marines 5, Eagles 3
At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Josh Whitesell went 3-for-5 with three RBIs in support of Yoshihisa Naruse and Chiba Lotte handed Sawamura Award winner Masahiro Takanaka and Tohoku Rakuten a defeat in its first-ever season opener in Sendai.
Naruse (0-1) gave up one run despite allowing seven hits in 6-2/3 innings. Tanaka (0-1) yielded five runs — three unearned — in six innings of the loss.