So far, so good for Yoshinobu Takahashi and the Yomiuri Giants.
Tomoyuki Sugano threw seven shutout innings and Hisayoshi Chono homered to help make Takahashi a winner in his managerial debut as the Giants beat the defending Central League champion Tokyo Yakult Swallows 3-1 in front of an opening-night crowd of 44,842 on Friday at Tokyo Dome.
“I’m glad we are able to give our new manager his first win on opening day,” Chono said.
Takahashi went home a winner with his former manager and predecessor Tatsunori Hara and former teammate Hideki Matsui at the Big Egg as guest commentators for Nippon TV.
The contest not only got the Kyojin off to a winning start, but also helped divert at least some of the attention away from the gambling scandal that plagued the team late last season and flared up again earlier this month.
Sugano found the going tough at times but managed to come away with a win over the Swallows, something he couldn’t do last season. The right-hander allowed six baserunners, giving up five hits and plunking one batter.
“Sugano mostly stepped up when he got in a jam,” said catcher Seiji Kobayashi, who gave Yomiuri a bit of breathing room with a two-run double in the seventh. “He was throwing well throughout, but especially with runners on base.”
The Birds had Sugano’s number last season. The right-hander was 0-4 with a 6.10 ERA in their four meetings during the regular season. The Swallows also beat him in the Central League Climax Series.
Sugano turned the tables somewhat on the first day of the new season. He wasn’t at his absolute best, but each time he needed an out in a big moment, he got it.
“I tried to keep the ball in the infield with runners on to prevent timely hits and scoring,” he said.
The Giants have given the ball to the fourth-year star on opening day in three straight seasons, and he’s come away victorious each time.
“Opening day is a special game,” Sugano said. “I am happy we could start the season on a winning note.”
Chono, batting in the leadoff spot, gave the Giants the lead with his solo homer, which was also Yomiuri’s first hit of the season, in the fourth inning. Chono finished 1-for-4.
“It feels good to hit a home run for the first hit of the season, especially when we did not have a hit up to that point and it gave us the lead,” Chono said.
Kobayashi finished 1-for-3 with a pair of RBIs.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew we were going to score at least one run and I was happier when the second runner crossed the plate,” Kobayashi said about his seventh-inning double.
Yakult’s Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa lasted six innings and allowed one run on two hits. Ogawa (0-1) struck out two, walked one and hit a batter.
Reigning Central League MVP Tetsuto Yamada drove in the Swallows’ only run with a double to center in the eighth. Shingo Kawabata, last season’s CL batting champion, was 2-for-4.
The Giants drew first blood when Chono went deep against Ogawa in the fourth. The Kyojin loaded the bases with one out later in the inning, before Ogawa regained his bearings and retired Yoshiyuki Kamei and Shuichi Murata to end the frame.
Kawabata connected on a one-out single off reliever Scott Mathieson in the eighth, and Yamada cut into the lead with a double that was close enough to being a home run it required a replay review.
Mathieson limited the damage to one run, and Hirokazu Sawamura worked the ninth to nail down the save.
Dragons tame Tigers
Osaka — Yudai Ono allowed two runs in 7-2/3 innings to lead the Chunichi Dragons to a 5-2 win on Friday over the Hanshin Tigers. The Dragons won on opening day for the first time in four years.
BayStars 2, Carp 1
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Shoichi Ino threw seven scoreless innings and rookie Tatsuhiro Shibata singled in two second-inning runs as Yokohama beat Hiroshima to give rookie manager Alex Ramirez his first win.
Marines 3, Fighters 2
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Chiba Lotte right-hander Hideaki Wakui took a step toward showing his 2015 renaissance was the real thing as he outdueled marquee flame thrower Shohei Otani in the teams’ season opener.
The Marines exploited a handful of poor pitches by Hokkaido Nippon Ham ace to take a three-run first-inning lead en route to victory.
Despite bringing his heat on a 5 degree C night, Otani was stung early before a sell-out crowd. Alfredo Despaigne’s two-out RBI single put the hosts in front, and Seiya Inoue doubled in two more before being run out on the bases to end the inning.
Wakui, whose 15 wins last year tied Otani for the Pacific League lead, allowed four singles and hit a batter over seven scoreless innings, while striking out seven. Otani allowed five hits and walked three in seven innings, while striking out nine, including the five of the last six he faced.
“The support from our fans was fantastic and gave me extra strength,” said Wakui, who last season reached 10-plus wins for the first time since 2010.
“I’m from here and I always respond well to pitching in front of the local fans, but today they gave me a bigger boost than usual.”
The Fighters wasted a leadoff single and a two-base error in the top of the first and paid the price in the home half, when Otani failed to get the third out against three straight batters.
Otani hit 160 kph on his third pitch of the game, but surrendered a leadoff single on a bouncer by Yoshifumi Okada. A sacrifice bunt, a passed ball and a strikeout brought Despaigne up with a man on third. After making Ikuhiro Kiyota look foolish chasing his forkball, Otani fell in love with the pitch — but it stopped loving him back.
Despaigne lined a hanging 1-0 forkball to center to open the scoring. After Katsuya Kakunaka walked on five pitches, Seiya Inoue lined another high forkball to left. He drove in two but was thrown out going for a triple.
Otani and his splitter soon made up and made things hard on the Marines, but Wakui’s sharp command and well-executed plan with catcher Yuta Yoshida gave the Fighters little to work with. Wakui gave the visitors an opening in the first, but after Yang Dai-kang singled to open the game, Yoshida threw him out trying to steal with a perfect throw.
Tomohisa Otani took the mound for Lotte in the eighth and chaos entered the game along with him. Takuya Nakashima and Yang hit back-to-back singles to open the inning. Two errors on the latter play made it 3-1 with Yang on second. Kensuke Tanaka singled in another run to make it 3-2. Tatsuya Uchi relieved Otani and, after a two-out walk, struck out slugger Brandon Laird to end the inning to bring a huge roar from the enthusiastic crowd.
Marines closer Yuji Nishino finished off the Fighters in the ninth to earn the save.
Eagles 7, Hawks 3
At Sendai’s Kobo Stadium, Tohoku Rakuten overcame an early three-run deficit on two-run singles by Kazuya Fujita and Takero Okajima as the Eagles batted around in the second inning against SoftBank ace Tadashi Settsu, who allowed six runs in three innings.
Lions 5, Buffaloes 4
At Tokorozawa’s Seibu Prince Dome, Takumi Kuriyama tripled in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth and Ernesto Mejia singled in the winning run as Seibu came from behind against new Orix closer Erik Cordier.