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Bowker bashes two home runs as Giants end offensive slump

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

More than a few fans probably came to Tokyo Dome wondering when the Yomiuri Giants would score again. By the end of night, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows just wanted them to stop.

John Bowker hit a two-run home run in the second inning and added a three-run shot in the sixth to help the Giants burst out of one of the worst scoring slumps in their long history with a 8-3 win over the Swallows in front of a crowd of 45,319 on Friday night.

“The last couple of games we found it tough to score, but we changed that tonight,” Bowker said.

The Giants entered the game in the midst of a 32-inning scoreless streak. The Kyojin‘s last run had come during the seventh inning of an 8-6 victory over the Chunichi Dragons on April 7. The Giants were then shut out during a three-game series against the Hanshin Tigers, losing twice and playing out a 12-inning tie.

“It was a tough series against the Tigers,” Bowker said. “The pitchers pitched really well, but we didn’t really do much offensively. To be able to come out aggressive like that definitely helped the team out.”

The streak had stretched to 33 innings against starter Orlando Roman before Bowker drove in two runs with his first homer of the night in the second. His three-run home run in the sixth broke a 3-3 tie.

“I don’t think there was a panic,” Bowker said. “There are a lot of good players on this team. We knew we were going to snap out of it. It was only a matter of time. Things like that happen. Teams go through dry spells.”

Bowker struggled for most of 2012 before playing a key role for the Kyojin during the Japan Series, winning an Outstanding Player award for his efforts.

He’s shown no signs of last season’s difficulties early in 2013. The Giants outfielder is 12-for-38 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in his first 11 games this season. Bowker had three homers and drove in 10 runs during 69 games in 2012.

“Today Bowker was really good,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. We ran into some great pitching by the Tigers at Koshien, but we came back tonight in a big way after Bowker started off the scoring for us.”

Jose Lopez followed Bowker’s sixth-inning homer with a solo shot, his fourth of the season. Shinnosuke Abe and Kenji Yano also drove in runs for the Giants.

Giants starter D.J. Houlton (2-0) allowed three runs on six hits and struck out five in the win.

“When I pitch I just want the team to win,” Houlton said. “I don’t have to get the win myself, just pitch well enough to keep it close and give the team a chance to win.”

The right-hander said he felt no extra pressure from Yomiuri’s recent struggles at the plate.

“I felt the opposite actually,” he said. “I just kind of felt like it was bound to happen. We have a pretty good offense.”

The game marked the return of Swallows star Wladimir Balentien, who had missed the start of the season due to a groin injury he suffered while playing for the Netherlands during the World Baseball Classic.

“I felt good,” Balentien said. “I wasn’t able to put a couple of good at-bats together, but I feel good.”

Balentien finished 0-for-4.

“You always need to get back in game-mode,” Balentien said. “My swing was all right. I just need a couple more ABs to be right back where I have to be. I haven’t seen live pitching in a long time. I played a couple games in the minor league, but it doesn’t help. Obviously you need a couple more games.”

Lastings Milledge led off the game with a home run for Yakult and also recorded a double in the ninth. Yuhei Takai, who finished 3-for-4, hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the sixth.

“We played a good game,” Milledge said. “They just had more timely hits than we did.”

Roman (0-1) was charged with the loss.

The Tokyo rivals will meet in the second game of their three-game series Saturday afternoon at Tokyo Dome. Rookie Tomoyuki Sugano will get the start for the Giants. He’ll be opposed by Swallows lefty Masanori Ishikawa.

“We have to play better than this when we come to Tokyo Dome,” Swallows manager Junji Ogawa said. “We were not at our best tonight.”

Tigers record another shutout

Nishinomiya, Hyogo Pref.
KYODO

Randy Messenger (2-0) was nearly flawless, pitching a four-hitter over the distance against the Yokohama BayStars on Friday night, helping the Hanshin Tigers earn a 2-0 victory and hold a team scoreless for a franchise record fourth consecutive game.

The big right-hander struck out seven and did not issue a walk in an efficient 105-pitch outing. BayStars starter Kentaro Takasaki (1-1) took the loss in Yokohama’s first shutout defeat of the year. Hanshin catcher Akihito Fujii and leadoff man Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit RBI singles in the second for the only runs.

Carp 5, Dragons 4

At Nagoya Dome, Brad Eldred and Ryohei Matsuyama pulled a double whammy with back-to-back homers off reliever Yuta Muto (0-1) to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning as Hiroshima rallied past Chunichi.

Shota Nakazaki (1-0) allowed one run in one inning of work but got his first career win, while Kam Mickolio picked up his third save of the season.

PACIFIC LEAGUE


Buffaloes 4, Fighters 0

At Kobe’s Hotto Motto Field, Chihiro Kaneko tossed a five-hitter for the Pacific League’s first shutout of the season as Orix downed Hokkaido Nippon Ham.

Ryoichi Adachi provided the brunt of offense with a leadoff homer in the third inning and a one-out two-run single in the fourth. Lee Dae Ho capped the scoring with his bases-loaded RBI single with one out in the seventh.

Kaneko (2-0) struck out eight, walked three and hit a batter.

Masaru Nakamura (0-2) was tagged for three runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings of the loss.

Marines 1, Hawks 0

At Fukuoka’s Yahoo Dome, Chiba Lotte lefty Yasuhisa Naruse (1-0) won a pitchers’ duel against 2012 Sawamura Award winner Tadashi Settsu, holding Fukuoka Softbank to three hits over seven shutout innings.

Kazuya Fukuura drove in the sole run with an RBI single down the right-field line in the seventh. Settsu (2-1) got 10 strikeouts but walked four on five hits in eight innings.

The Hawks could manage just four hits and failed to have a runner reach third base.

Eagles 3, Lions 2

At Sendai’s Kleenex Stadium, Andruw Jones had a sacrifice fly when Tohoku Rakuten tied it up 2-2 in the sixth inning, and catcher Motohiro Shima got the go-ahead run on an RBI single in the seventh in a win over Seibu.

Kazuya Takahori (1-0) got the win in relief. Lions starter Takayuki Kishi (0-3) was condemned to a third straight loss since the start of the season after yielding three runs in seven frames.

The Eagles’ Koji Aoyama closed out the ninth for his third save.