Tetsuya Utsumi threw his hands in the air as soon as the ball cleared the wall in left-center. Then he started clapping, and then he started grinning, and he capped his celebration by giving teammate Frederich Cepeda a high-five and a big slap on the backside for a job well done.
Utsumi protected a slim lead with seven shutout innings before Cepeda put the game on ice with a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to help the Yomiuri Giants, and especially their starting pitcher, pick up a 6-0 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in front of a crowd of 42,822 on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
“I’m sorry it took so long to get my first win this season,” Utsumi said. “I should apologize to our fans.”
The win gave the Giants a split in the first interleague series between the participants in last year’s Japan Series. They’ll place twice more next month at Rakuten’s Kobo Stadium.
“These two-game series are always tough,” said Giants manager Tatsunori Hara. “When you lose the first game, you can’t win the series, only tie. That’s the best we could do, so I have to be satisfied with it.”
Utsumi (1-5) is still introduced as the Kyojin’s ace before his starts, but his recent results have been anything but ace-like. The left-hander had gone 11 starts since his last winning decision dating back to last season. He entered Thursday’s game 0-5 in nine starts and still looking for his first win two months into the season.
“I thought about many things during the two months without a win,” Utsumi said. “Tonight I feel the weight of the world was lifted off my back.”
Eagles left-hander Wataru Karashima (3-6) took the loss after allowing six runs over seven innings. Karashima struck out five and walked three.
Utsumi started strong against Rakuten and even when he lost some of the edge on his pitches and his location began to waver slightly, he had enough to make the pitches he needed in order to get out of innings unscathed. Utsumi struck out four and walked three in the win, and was aided by three double plays the Giants turned behind him.
“Utsumi pitched his heart out, and I won’t forget how well he threw tonight,” “Hara said. “This is big for him and our team.”
He pitched with an early 1-0 lead courtesy of a solo home run by Shuichi Murata in the second inning and got an insurance run in the sixth on an RBI double by Hirokazu Ibata.
The Giants put runners on second and third with two away in the seventh, and the Eagles intentionally walked Hayato Sakamoto to get to Cepeda, who was hitting .167 prior to the at-bat. The Cuban star, who has struggled in his first two weeks in Japan, made Rakuten pay with a towering drive to left-center that just cleared the fence and tacked four more runs onto the lead.
“The timely hit by Ibata gave us a 2-0 lead, and I felt at that point we would win,” Hara said. “Then Cepeda’s grand slam put the game in our pockets. It was a sweet victory.”
Eldred goes deep twice
Cleanup hitter Brad Eldred homered twice off Chiba Lotte ace Yoshihisa Naruse (4-5) and drove in four runs in the Hiroshima Carp’s 5-3 win over the Marines on Thursday in interleague play.
Hiroshima ace Kenta Maeda (5-3) allowed a run in eight innings to pick up the win.
Fighters 14, Swallows 7
At Jingu Stadium, Kensuke Kondo and Yang Dai-kang each homered and drove in five runs as Hokkaido Nippon Ham reached a season high in runs.
Tokyo Yakult starter Ryohei Kiya (4-3) gave up eight runs in 3-1/3 innings.
Buffaloes 3, Dragons 0
At Nagoya Dome, rookie right-hander Daiki Tomei left a scoreless game after being struck on the hand on a shot hit back to the mound in the sixth inning for Chunichi’s only hit off him.
Orix reliever Shinya Nakayama (1-0) picked up the win in relief as the Pacific League-leading Buffaloes scored three late runs and snapped a two-game losing streak.
Lions 13, Tigers 2
At Koshien Stadium, Yusei Kikuchi (2-6) allowed two runs in six innings, and Seibu broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning on back-to-back triples by Ginjiro Sumitani and Yuji Kaneko in a win over Hanshin, which fell from second place.
BayStars 6, Hawks 5 (11)