Captain Shinnosuke Abe singled to drive in the game-winning run in the 11th inning, lifting the Yomiuri Giants to a 3-2 victory over the Hiroshima Carp on Sunday.
The 2012 Japan Series champion took the three-game series 2-0 with one tie to start the new season.
It appeared things would go the other way after Brad Eldred hit a two-out, tiebreaking homer to make it 2-1 in the top of the inning, but the resilient Giants never said die.
Pinch hitter Kenji Yano singled on a groundball up the middle and Hisayoshi Chono followed with a single on a fly ball to right. Ryota Wakiya then came through with a game-tying double to the corner in left.
“I was able to go out and be aggressive there since I knew that the outfielders were drawn in,” said Wakiya, who had a go-ahead two-run single to help his team win the first game of the series on Friday. “I didn’t have a good at-bat before that so I was really focused. Maybe this is a little more than everyone expects from me.”
Hayato Sakamoto, who homered earlier and went 2-for-3 on the day, was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Abe did not miss on a 2-0 slider from Ryuji Yokoyama (0-1) to end it and send the crowd of 45,107 at Tokyo Dome into delirious cheers.
“I thought I might fly out there but it got through,” said Abe, who is 2-for-10 in the first three games of the season. “I was very relaxed coming into that at-bat. As long as I am getting playing time, I’ll start to improve my at-bats. Once that happens, I’m confident I’ll be fine.”
Hiroshima starter Kenta Maeda appeared to be on course for another brilliant performance before the slumbering Giants awoke late.
Maeda hunkered down in a fierce pitching duel with lefty Tetsuya Utsumi and runs were hard to come by.
In the seventh, Sakamoto latched onto a hanging 2-2 slider that cleared the wall in left-center to make it 1-1.
“I was glad to get a homer in that situation,” said Sakamoto. “I could see from the previous at-bat that his slider was sharp, so I just kept that in mind. I fell behind the count but I was looking for a slider to drive and I got it. It’s great to get a homer off a good pitcher like Maeda.”
Maeda, who threw a no-hitter against the Yokohama BayStars on April 6, 2012, showed flashes of the same brilliance on this day, holding his opponent hitless until Sakamoto’s fourth-inning single. He struck out six and yielded one run on five hits with no walks over eight innings.
“After giving up the homer I was able to switch gears,” said Maeda. “I was in good form and hoping that we’d get our first win. I started getting tired late and my slider was coming inside the strike zone. We have to be able throw in games like this one.”
Utsumi allowed one unearned run on five-hit ball over eight innings, striking out seven with two walks. Kentaro Nishimura took over in relief and had a 1-2-3 ninth before having to dig himself out of a jam in the 10th. Lefty Kyosuke Takagi (2-0) got the win in relief.
“In the first two games of the series, we had some young pitchers really going strong. As the leader, I knew I had to perform well, too. I wanted to be sure I didn’t disgrace myself out there,” said Utsumi, who went 15-6 with a 1.98 ERA in 2012.
Hiroshima capitalized on some errant defense from the home team in the fourth.
Jun Hirose and Eldred led off the frame with back-to-back singles. With one out, Eishin Soyogi hit a potential double play ball, only for second baseman Wakiya to throw wildly to first to push across the opening run — something he more than made up for with his heroics in the 11th.
“It was because of my bad throw that we gave up the opening run, so I wanted to redeem myself. I’m glad I could,” said Wakiya.
The Giants threatened in the eighth, when John Bowker doubled down the left-field line with one out, but the ever-patient Maeda struck out pinch hitter Yoshihito Ishii swinging before getting leadoff man Chono to ground out to second.
Wakiya reached on a dropped third strike against big man Kam Mickolio to start the ninth. After Sakamoto’s perfectly executed bunt, Abe was given an intentional free pass, but the buzz was killed when Shuichi Murata hit into an inning-ending double play to force the game into extra frames.
Dragons 8, BayStars 3
At Nagoya Dome, Masahiko Morino doubled twice, walked and scored three runs, while Motonobu Tanishige reached base three times and drove in three runs as Chunichi avoided being swept in three games at home by perennial last-place club Yokohama.
Former Dragon Tony Blanco hit a two-run homer for the BayStars, while Alex Ramirez went 1-for-4 to move within three hits of the 2,000-hit milestone.
Swallows 2, Tigers 0
Lions 5, Fighters 2
At Seibu Dome, second-year Seibu right-hander Ken Togame (1-0) held Hokkaido Nippon Ham scoreless for 8⅔ innings before surrendering a two-run homer to Michel Abreu in a comfortable win for the Lions.
Lions captain Takumi Kuriyama homered and drove in three runs, while Hideto Asamura went 3-for-4 with a two RBIs for Seibu.
Buffaloes 5, Marines 1
At QVC Marine Field, Takayoshi Kawabata had four hits, new No. 3 hitter Yoshio Itoi had three and Tomotaka Sakaguchi drove in three runs as Orix pummeled Chiba Lotte for its first win of the season.
Right-hander Brandon Dickson (1-0) allowed a run in seven innings to win his Japan debut. Veteran right-hander Dicky Gonzalez, entering his 10th year in Japan but his first in the PL, took the loss after allowing four runs in five innings.
Eagles 9, Hawks 1
At Yahoo Dome, Manabu Mima (1-0) threw eight shutout innings to pitch Tohoku Rakuten to its second straight win, while the Eagles tagged 2012 rookie star Shota Takeda (0-1) for five runs in four-plus innings.
Casey McGehee, who came to the Eagles this season with 551 major league games under his belt, went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, two runs and three RBIs for Rakuten.