Coming off a tough season, John Bowker was ready for his moment.
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters sure weren’t ready for him.
Bowker hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning and added a two-run double in the seventh, while starter Tetsuya Utsumi silenced the Fighters’ bats with seven shutout innings in the Yomiuri Giants’ 8-1 win in Game 1 of the Japan Series on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
“This was a great way to open the Japan Series,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Our team played great tonight.”
Most of the 44,981 in attendance were already worked up in the fourth after Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe put the home team ahead 1-0 with an RBI single. Kenji Yano drew a two-out walk later in the inning, and Bowker sent the crowd into a frenzy with a home run off starter Mitsuo Yoshikawa that landed in the Kyojin‘s cheering section in right field.
“I was trying to get a mistake,” Bowker said. “Trying not to swing out of the zone. I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit, and he left it there to hit. Luckily I didn’t miss that pitch.”
Bowker came up with the bases loaded in the seventh, and drove in two runs with a double to right. Bowker finished 2-for-4 with five RBIs, one shy of tying the Japan Series record.
“I’m glad I decided to put Bowker in the starting lineup,” Hara said. “He hit well in the Climax Series, so I decided to stick with him, and he came through for us.”
The Giants are off to a rocking start against the Fighters after falling behind 3-1 in the Central League Climax Series final stage against the Chunichi Dragons before rallying back with three straight victories.
“It feels good,” Bowker said. “But we were down 3-1 and we came back. So you can’t be complacent. You always want to try to win each game. Each inning is important.”
Rust could’ve been an issue for Nippon Ham, which swept the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Pacific League Climax Series and had been idle since Oct. 20. The Giants didn’t punch their Japan Series ticket until Oct. 22 and looked liked the fresher team.
Abe was 2-for-4 and drove in a pair of runs, and Yoshinobu Takahashi finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. Hayato Sakamoto chipped in with a pair of doubles for Yomiuri, which outhit Nippon Ham 14-3. All eight of the Giants’ starting position players had at least one hit.
“I have to express my appreciation to my teammates for giving me the run support,” Utsumi said. That made my job so much easier.”
Bowker’s big night was just the latest highlight in what has been a resurgent playoff run for the Sacramento native.
Bowker didn’t have a great first season with the Giants, batting .196 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 69 games during the regular season. He spent most of August and September on the farm team, returning toward the end of the regular season and playing on Sept 28, 29 and Oct. 1.
He made his postseason debut in Game 3 of the Central League Climax Series final stage and went 2-for-4 in that game, 1-for-2 the next night, and recorded at least one hit in each of the four games he played.
“It feels great,” Bowker said. “The regular season is behind us. What’s important is the postseason. I’m just trying to do what I can do to help the team. Tonight was a good win, and we have another day tomorrow.”
Bowker is hitting .500 during this postseason.
Utsumi began the series on fire, striking out eight and allowing two hits to pick up the win.
“I felt my pitching tonight was just about perfect,” Utsumi said.
Utsumi finished without giving up a walk, but hit two batters.
“He pitched like the ace he is tonight,” Hara said.
Yoshikawa won 14 games for the Fighters and carried the pitching staff in the team’s first season since Yu Darvish left for the major leagues, but couldn’t get the Fighters over the hump in the opener.
“He’s got really good stuff,” Bowker said. “He’s got a really good fastball. We got him tonight. I know he’s done well and had a lot of success, but tonight was our night.”
Yoshikawa lasted four innings and gave up four runs on seven hits. He struck out six and walked none.
“I feel sorry (for the team) that I had to leave the mound early,” Yoshikawa said. “I want to improve so I can get some payback next time.”
Utsumi was pleased to have come out in top in the battle of aces.
“He’s a great pitcher, but we have great relievers just as Nippon Ham does,” Utsumi said. “So I just tried to go all-out.”
The Fighters avoided being shut out when Daikan Yoh homered off Dicky Gonzalez in the ninth.
The CL and PL champions will meet in Game 2 on Sunday at Tokyo Dome.
“We’ll come out again tomorrow and try to play well and get another win.”