If the pressure of making his NPB debut at Tokyo Dome in front of 42,870 fans got to Yomiuri Giants left-hander Kazuto Taguchi, the 19-year-old didn’t let it show — on the mound or at the plate.
Taguchi was calm, cool and collected over seven innings of one-run ball and put himself in the driver’s seat with the tiebreaking RBI single in the fourth as the Giants bounced back with a 2-1 win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the second game of the teams’ Tokyo Series on Saturday afternoon.
“This is my first chance to pitch in front of so many fans,” Taguchi said. “I was in awe. My catcher (Kazunari) Sanematsu called a nice game and it was easy to follow his lead.”
Taguchi is the 10th pitcher in Giants history to win in his first game.
“I am glad to join such a distinguished club,” he said.
Taguchi was 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA for the Giants’ farm team last season, but facing the Swallows, even a Yakult team without Wladimir Balentien, represented a substantial step up.
Taguchi passed the test with flying colors, allowing only one run on Hiroyasu Tanaka’s RBI double in the second inning. He gave up five hits and struck out five without walking a batter.
“Taguchi was really good today,” Sanematsu said. “I know he was a little nervous, but his control was good and the Yakult hitters had trouble hitting his pitches.”
Taguchi was on the hook for the loss until the fourth. Hirokazu Ibata and Shuichi Murata got things going for Yomiuri with two-out singles, and Sanematsu tied the score with a run-scoring hit to right.
That brought Taguchi to the plate, and he put himself in line for the victory with a dribbler down the third base line that allowed another run to score and gave Yomiuri a 2-1 lead.
“It was not much of a hit, but it got the job done and gave our team the lead,” Taguchi said.
The Swallows have had six consecutive games decided by one run, and had been victorious in the previous three.
Starter Masanori Ishikawa lasted six innings and allowed both Yomiuri runs. Ishikawa (0-2) struck out three, walked three and hit a batter in the losing effort.
“Ishikawa did his best, we just couldn’t pull it out,” Yakult manager Mitsuru Manaka said.
Giants manager Tatsunori Hara introduced a lineup full of changes which included inserting Hayato Sakamoto into the cleanup spot for the first time in the shortstop’s career. Sakamoto became the 82nd player to hit fourth in franchise history, but finished 0-for-4.
With Shinnosuke Abe getting the day off, Sanematsu was given his first start of the season.
“I was happy to have the chance to play today and to catch Taguchi in his first game and get a key hit as well,” he said.
For Taguchi, the day was perfect, except for the ball he threw on his very first pitch.
“I wanted to throw a strike on the first pitch, but it was a ball,” Taguchi said. “But it’s the end result that counts.”