Hirokazu Sawamura made his Japan Series debut by hitting a pair of batters in the first inning.
A friendly tap on the head from catcher Shinnosuke Abe, and a leadoff home run by Hisayoshi Chono got the second-year right-hander back on track and the Yomiuri Giants one step closer to another celebration.
Sawamura threw eight shutout innings, and Chono’s home run was the difference as the Giants outlasted a valiant effort by Hokkaido Nippon Ham starter Masaru Takeda to beat the Fighters 1-0 in Game 2 of the Japan Series on Sunday at Tokyo Dome.
The Giants will now head to Sapporo Dome with a 2-0 lead in the series, which resumes on Tuesday at the Fighters’ home park.
“We made a great start,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Now that we are up two games to none, the pressure will be on the Fighters.”
Sawamura was pitching in his first Japan Series, and early on it looked as if nerves would get the best of him. He plunked leadoff hitter Daikan Yoh to start the game and hit Sho Nakata later in the inning.
“I was a little nervous, as it was my first time to pitch in the Japan Series,” Sawamura said. “After the first inning, I could settle into a rhythm and felt really good.”
Sawamura got out of the first without allowing a run and yielded just three singles over the rest of his outing. He struck out the side in the eighth to leave on a high note.
“I felt really strong in the eighth inning and was throwing better than I had earlier,” Sawamura said.
The second-year hurler struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. He also showed great poise in the first, not letting his early control issues rattle him.
“Abe-san told me to relax and be careful not to cross him up,” Sawamura said. “He said not to lose focus.”
Yoh played the remainder of the game after being hit, but Nakata was lifted after the fourth and taken to the hospital for X-rays on his hand. The Nippon Ham slugger reportedly has a bruised, but not broken, hand.
Sawamura’s effort came one night after Tetsuya Utsumi held the Fighters in check over seven scoreless innings.
“Our pitchers in both games were superb,” Hara said.
Chono’s home run was the 12th leadoff homer in Japan Series history and first since Koji Akiyama did it for the Daiei Hawks in 1999.
“I put a good swing on it and was happy when I saw it clear the wall in right-center,” Chono said. “It was nice to give our offense a good start tonight.”
That was basically all the offense the Giants were able to muster. Yoshinobu Takahashi and Shuichi Murata finished with singles, while Sawamura and Shigeyuki Furuki chipped in with doubles.
“Sawamura was pitching so well, I wish we could’ve scored more and given him more of a cushion,” Chono said.
Tetsuya Yamaguchi recorded the first two outs of the ninth before allowing a pair of singles. Scott Mathieson relieved him and wasted no time retiring former Giants star Tomohiro Nioka. Mathieson became the first player to record a one-pitch save in Japan Series history and also notched the sixth one-batter save in Japan Series history.
Both pitching staffs were on top of their game, with neither allowing a walk, the second such occurrence in the Japanese version of the Fall Classic.
Takeda gave everything he had to keep Nippon Ham in the game. The left-hander allowed four hits and struck out a season-high 10 batters. He threw six innings of one-run ball.
His lone mistake came against the very first batter he faced, when Chono knocked a hanging shuuto with almost no break into the stands.
“My shuuto didn’t really bite, and I allowed a home run,” Takeda said. “That woke me up and I was able to pitch my game from then on. So I don’t have any regrets.”
Takeda’s career record fell to 1-4 in the Japan Series.
The Fighters’ offensive woes continued for the second straight night as the Pacific League champions managed no runs and five hits. In Game 1, Nippon Ham was limited to three hits and didn’t get on the scoreboard until Daikan Yoh’s leadoff home run in the ninth.
Nippon Ham managed to get the potential tying run to third and a potential go-ahead run to first in the ninth, before finally bowing out.
“Well even if you give yourself a chance, if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean anything,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said.
The series will resume on Tuesday at Sapporo Dome. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
“We’re going to go to Sapporo tomorrow and expect to keep winning,” Chono said.