/

Cepeda crushes first home run in NPB; Giants snap five-game slide

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Frederich Cepeda, while playing for the Cuban national team, got a chance to watch Kenta Maeda pitch for Samurai Japan during the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

The Cuban, now with the Yomiuri Giants, got an even better look at the Hiroshima Carp’s celebrated right-hander during their first meeting as NPB rivals.

Cepeda hit a two-run homer off Maeda in the third inning to help his own pitcher, Tomoyuki Sugano, and the Giants get back into the win column with a 5-1 victory over the Carp on Saturday night.

“More important than my home run was the fact we were able to win and break a five-game losing streak,” said Cepeda, who hadn’t yet arrived in Japan when the Giants’ skid began last weekend.

Giants fans, many clad in the orange shirts handed out at the gates, showed up in droves alongside a sizable traveling contingent of Carp supporters, not to mention a large group of MLB scouts, which made for a rocking atmosphere at Tokyo Dome, where the two teams each sent their best pitcher to the mound.

The hurlers may have been the main attraction initially, but it was Cepeda who really sent the fans into hysterics first.

Cepeda, playing in his third game since arriving in Japan earlier in the week, grounded out in his first at-bat of the night in the first inning, but got his revenge in the third.

With the Giants leading by a run and Yasuyuki Kataoka on first, Cepeda sent a 3-0 fastball from Maeda into the seats beyond the center field wall for his first home run in Japan.

“He was on the Japanese team during the WBC, so I was familiar with him,” said Cepeda, who didn’t face Maeda in Cuba’s 6-3 win over Japan in the first round of last year’s WBC.

The win stopped Yomiuri’s losing streak at five, a slide that began May 11 with Sugano on the mound against the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium. Sugano turned in seven strong innings in that game, but a run he gave up in the second inning made the difference in the Giants’ 1-0 loss and Sugano’s first losing decision of the season.

The Giants were then swept by the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and lost the first game of the current series against the Carp, before Sugano’s turn in the rotation came back around.

He delivered again, tossing seven innings of one-run ball, and this time got the run support he needed to leave with a win.

“Victories became more difficult for us lately,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “We needed this win badly, and Sugano came through for us tonight.”

Sugano allowed four hits, struck out five and walked four in the win.

“He’s was on today,” Carp slugger Brad Eldred said.

The game also featured a heavy MLB presence, with scouts from various teams turning up to get another look at Maeda (4-2). The Hiroshima starter allowed three runs over six innings in the loss, allowing four hits, striking out two and walking two. His velocity on his fastball sat in the high 140s and he made liberal use of his slider, change-up and shuuto.

The Giants got their bats around many of his offerings, but hit a lot of them at Carp defenders. Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe actually hit one ball straight at Maeda, with the comebacker smacking the pitcher in the upper thigh near the groin area.

Maeda fielded the ball and made the throw to first for the out before crumpling to the ground in pain.

Maeda left the field under his own power, and didn’t seem to have any trouble walking out of the Big Egg, a route that includes a climb up a flight of stairs, after the game.

Cepeda finished 1-for-3 with a walk for Yomiuri, while Kataoka also drove in a run for the home team. Hisayoshi Chono and Jose Lopez each recorded an RBI against the Hiroshima bullpen, with both Giants hitters finishing 2-for-4.

Shogo Kimura had two of the Carp’s five hits on the night, and Ryosuke Kikuchi scored the team’s only run on a wild pitch in the sixth inning.

The teams will meet in the final game of their series on Sunday, the last day before interleague play begins in Japanese baseball. The Carp will send righty Bryan Bullington to the mound against Yomiuri lefty Chris Seddon.

“We have Giants Pride and expect to play Giants winning baseball tomorrow and throughout the interleague games,” Hara said.

Messenger tosses another shutout

Nishinomiya Hyogo Pref. KYODO

Randy Messenger threw a three-hitter in his second consecutive shutout as the Hanshin Tigers blanked the Yokohama BayStars 4-0 on Saturday afternoon.

Messenger (4-4) struck out nine and walked one and didn’t allow a runner to reach third in a 112-pitch outing at Koshien Stadium.

It was the right-hander’s second straight shutout after holding the Yomiuri Giants to four hits in a 1-0 victory on May 11.

Ryota Imanari had an RBI single to open the scoring in a three-run fourth.

After Kosuke Fukudome’s single loaded the bases, catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka was hit with a pitch to drive in the second run and the third run scored on BayStars starter Guillermo Moscoso’s (3-4) error when Messenger hit a comebacker to the mound.

Tsuruoka added a fifth-inning, bases-loaded walk to cap the scoring.

Swallows 4, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, left-hander Ryosuke Yagi (2-1) held his opponent to one run over seven innings and Wladimir Balentien went 2-for-5 with two RBIs as Tokyo Yakult defeated Chunichi to win its fifth in a row.

Daniel Cabrera (4-3) was tagged for the loss.

PACIFIC LEAGUE
Lions 7, Eagles 0

At Komachi Stadium, Takayuki Kishi (4-2) pitched a four-hit shutout and walked none, helping Seibu snap a four-game losing skid.

Hideto Asamura was 4-for-5 and drove in two runs and Fumikazu Kimura had a pair of RBI singles.

Tohoku Rakuten’s Wataru Karashima (3-4) took the loss.

Fighters 2, Marines 1 (11)

At Sapporo Dome, Fighters catcher Shota Ono hit a one-out walkoff solo home run off lefty Takahiro Matsunaga (0-1) in the 11th inning, lifting Hokkaido Nippon Ham over Chiba Lotte for its fifth straight win.

The Marines lost their third in a row.

Buffaloes 2, Hawks 1 (12)