Hideki Irabu made a successful return to Japanese baseball Saturday, picking up a win in his first game after spending six years in the major leagues.
Irabu, who had 16 saves for the Texas Rangers last season, gave up three runs and nine hits over six innings to lead the Hanshin Tigers of the Central League to their first win of the year, a 7-3 victory over the Yokohama BayStars.
He got off to a shaky start after giving up a pair of runs in the first inning, but settled down and finished with six strikeouts.
After compiling a 34-35 record and a 5.15 ERA in six major league seasons, Irabu signed a $2 million, one-year deal in December with the Tigers, hoping to revive the struggling Central League team.
Irabu, 34, had a Pacific League-high 15 wins for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1994 and was one of the hardest throwers in Japan, but never lived up to his promise after signing a $12.8 million, four-year contract with the Yankees in 1997.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner called him a “fat . . . toad” after Irabu failed to cover first base during a spring training game, and the Yankees dealt him to Montreal after three seasons. Knee and elbow injuries limited him to 14 games during two seasons with the Expos.
He was 3-8 with 16 saves and a 5.74 ERA for Texas last season, and didn’t pitch after July 15 because of blood clots in his lungs.
Giants 11, Dragons 0
Yomiuri catcher Shinnosuke Abe belted a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning as the Giants cruised over Chunichi at Tokyo Dome.
Roberto Petagine, acquired from the Yakult Swallows in the offseason, got the Giants rolling with a solo blast in the second inning and Abe connected off Chunichi starter Kenta Asakura (0-1) with a towering blast to right in the fifth.
Veteran left-hander Kimiyasu Kudo went seven scoreless innings as the 2002 Japan Series champion picked up its first win of the season.
Daisuke Motoki went 4-for-4 with an RBI and Toshihisa Nishi had four hits too to lead Yomiuri’s 16-hit barrage.
Carp 3, Swallows 2
Ken Takahashi (1-0) pitched eight solid innings, limiting Yakult to two runs on seven hits, and helped his own cause with a go-ahead RBI triple in the seventh as Hiroshima beat the Swallows at Jingu Stadium.
Takahashi gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to Todd Betts but held the Swallows scoreless over the next seven innings. Rookie hurler Katsuhiro Nagakawa pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
Down 2-0 in the fifth, Kenjiro Nomura smacked a game-tying two-run homer off Swallows starter and 2002 Rookie of the Year lefty Masanori Ishikawa (0-1) before the Carp went ahead for good with Takahashi’s seventh-inning RBI triple.
Mitsui leads Seibu
Koji Mitsui tossed a four-hitter while giving up two runs over eight innings Saturday to lead the defending Pacific League champion Seibu Lions to a 5-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Kazuhiro Wada belted a solo homer in the second inning off Nippon Ham starter Satoru Kanemura at Seibu Dome and Katsuhiko Miyaji drove in a pair of runs with a double in the fourth to lead the Seibu attack.
Kiyoshi Toyoda retired the side in the ninth for the save.
The Lions are playing without Venezuelan slugger Alex Cabrera, who was taken off the 28-man roster on Friday because of inflammation of the right shoulder.
Cabrera belted 55 homers last year to equal Japan’s single-season record.
The 31-year-old slugger, who arrived in Japan at the end of February, hurt the shoulder during fielding practice.
Buffaloes 8, BlueWave 3
Norihiro Nakamura and Yuji Yoshioka both belted solo homers in the third inning to lead Kintetsu to a win over Orix at Osaka Dome.
Nakamura, who turned down an offer to play for the New York Mets this season, went 3-for-5 with three RBIs for the Buffaloes.
Hisashi Iwakuma picked up the win after holding Orix batters to three runs on seven hits over 7 2/3 innings.
Marines 2, Hawks 0
Naoyuki Shimizu combined with two relievers on a six-hit shutout as Lotte blanked Daiei at Fukuoka Dome for its first win of the year.
Shimizu (1-0) gave up six hits and struck out four over the first seven innings and reliever Takashi Kawai retired the side in the eighth. Closer Masahide Kobayashi worked the ninth for the save.
Former New York Yankees pitcher Brandon Knight was saddled with the loss despite giving up only one earned run on five hits over seven innings.
KAWASAKI (Kyodo) Yomiuri Giants slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who is sidelined with an injured right hamstring, made his first game appearance in nearly 150 days and produced a hit in a minor league game on Saturday.
The 35-year-old Kiyohara, who is expected to be out of action until mid-April, connected for a single off Yakult Swallows rookie and top draft pick Yuhei Takai in the cleanup spot and was issued a walk at Giants Stadium in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.
“I feel like I moved a step forward by being able to play,” said the 17-time All-Star infielder after making his first plate appearance since Game Four of the Japan Series last October.
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