The Yomiuri Giants brought in legend Shigeo Nagashima and a host of other Kyojin luminaries to help celebrate the team’s 2012 Central League championship on Opening Night, and they weren’t about to let the Hiroshima Carp spoil their party.
Ryota Wakiya marked his return after a one-year absence with a go-ahead two-run single in the seventh, and the Giants held on to edge the Carp 4-3 in a back-and-forth affair in front of a crowd of 44,980 on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“This is a great feeling to get the game-winning hit on Opening Day after being out for so long,” Wakiya said. “It seemed as if I was gone forever.”
Wakiya missed the entire 2012 season after suffering a ligament injury in his right elbow which led to reconstructive surgery in November of 2011. The 31-year-old remained with the franchise on a developmental contract last year and signed a regular deal with the Kyojin over the offseason.
He struck the decisive blow in the ’13 season opener with two outs in the seventh and his team behind by a run. Takeru Imamura had just come into the game to relieve starter Bryan Bullington, and Wakiya singled into right to drive in Shinnosuke Abe from third and Shuichi Murata from second.
“Wakiya wanted to get a hit in the worst way,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “I am so happy for him after he was out for so long.”
Giants newcomer Jose Lopez homered to left in his first NPB at-bat, and Murata also had a solo home run.
Yomiuri’s Kyosuke Takagi threw two-thirds of an inning in relief and picked up the win. Scott Mathieson was credited with a hold after two-thirds of an inning on the mound, and Tetsuya Yamaguchi recorded the last out of the eighth and all three in the ninth for the save.
“I decided to keep Yamaguchi in the game and not go to a closer because I knew there was a possibility we could go to 12 innings if we were tied,” Hara said. “So I wanted to save the pitchers.”
Bullington was charged with four runs over 6 2/3 innings in the hard-luck loss.
“In Japan, when you give up four runs, that’s pretty terrible I think,” Bullington said. “Not the start I wanted. Threw the ball well, but it’s all about results, and they weren’t good tonight.”
The Hiroshima starter allowed four hits, two of which were solo home runs, struck out two and walked one.
“Bullington pitched well for us and did not deserve to lose,” Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura said. “But those two solo home runs really hurt.”
The Giants dimmed the lights before the game and each member of the team received a 2012 CL championship ring from a Yomiuri star of the past during a pregame ceremony. Hara received his directly from Nagashima, his former manager.
Neither squad could find much of an opening once the lights came back on until Lopez homered in the third.
Eishin Soyogi got the Carp going in the fourth with a double to right — a ball close enough to being a home run that the umpires had to go to video review — which put runners at second and third. Shota Dobayashi then nearly homered himself, but settled instead for a two-run double.
Yomiuri pulled even in the bottom of the fifth on Murata’s home run.
Carp catcher Yoshiyuki Ishihara opened the seventh with a hit just over the head of shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, and Bullington was walked while attempting a sacrifice bunt. Ryosuke Kikuchi advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Yoshihiro Maru put the Carp ahead 3-2 with a sacrifice fly to left.
The Giants regained the lead in the bottom half thanks to Wakiya’s heroics.
“There were two outs when I came up, but two runners in scoring position,” Wakiya said. “I knew if I got a hit, I could turn the game around, so I just tried to hit the ball hard.”
The Carp will send Yuichi Hisamoto to the mound on Saturday, while Hara’s nephew, rookie Tomoyuki Sugano, will get the start for the Giants.
“We’re starting Sugano tomorrow and I think he will do OK,” Hara said. “I have confidence in him and think we have a better chance of winning because he won’t be going up against (Carp ace) Kenta Maeda.”
Blanco sparks BayStars
Tony Blanco tormented his former teammates after being released over the winter as the Yokohama BayStars defeated the Chunichi Dragons 4-3 on Friday in the Central League.
Blanco went 2-for-2 with three RBIs in his first game with the BayStars and broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth with a two-run single.
Dragons ace Kazuki Yoshimi, making his first CL start since Sept. 17, allowed a run on six hits in seven innings but the bullpen could not contain Yokohama, which also got two hits from Alex Ramirez, who needs five more to become the first foreign player to reach 2,000 in Japan.
Tigers 9, Swallows 3
At Jingu Stadium, Hanshin pounded out 17 hits in a win over Yakult and improve its record on Opening Day to 5-0-1 since 2008.
The Tigers’ Yamato Maeda went 4-for-5 and broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth with an RBI single. Takahiro Arai came off the bench in the seventh and drove in a run with his 300th career double, and new Tiger Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed with a two-run single.
Fighters 5, Lions 3
At Tokorozawa’s Seibu Dome, rookie Shohei Otani made a successful pro debut with two hits and an RBI in Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s win over Seibu.
Otani, who was heavily recruited by major league clubs because of his pitching prowess, became the 13th position player to make the jump from high school ball to Opening Day starter and had a successful debut, batting eighth and playing right field, Otani struck out looking in his first at-bat but went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI single.
Keiji Obiki, whom the Fighters acquired in a stunning trade with Orix for all-star outfielder Yoshio Itoi, put the Pacific League champions in front in the sixth with an RBI single. After Obiki advanced on an error, Otani singled him home.
Hawks 7, Eagles 1
At Yahoo Dome, veteran catcher Toru Hosokawa spoiled the pro debut of Rakuten starting pitcher Takahiro Norimoto with a two-run homer as Softbank came from behind to win its home opener.
The 22-year-old Norimoto, the first PL rookie to start on Opening Day in 55 years, allowed four runs on 6-1/3 innings in a loss against Hawks ace Tadashi Settsu, who allowed one run on three hits over six innings.
Marines 3, Buffaloes 2 (12)
At QVC Marine Field, Lotte’s Shunichi Nemoto drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 12th that tied it and Katsuya Kakunaka’s sacrifice fly sank Orix.
With the abolition of a rule that had prohibited extra innings 3-1/2 hours after the start of a game was set aside this season, a tie was averted and the game was allowed to run its full course over 4 hours, 43 minutes.