The Yomiuri Giants may have a new power-hitting third baseman on the way, but Shuichi Murata wants to show everyone the old model is still working just fine.
Murata hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning and scored the tiebreaking run on an error in the seventh to help the Giants edge the Chunichi Dragons 5-3 in front of a crowd of 46,075 on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.
Yomiuri’s most recent signing, Juan Francisco, took batting practice at the Big Egg prior to the game and it might be Murata’s job that’s on the line when he’s ready to go. Murata made an impassioned defense of his position against Chunichi, going 2-for-2 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk.
“Murata’s home run with two outs was huge,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. “It gave us the lead and broke a scoreless tie. We didn’t hold the lead, but his homer was the big blow in the game for us tonight.”
Murata also homered in the first game of the series on Tuesday night and was 5-for-8 over the three-game set. The Giants third baseman has hit safely in five consecutive games and brought his average up to .272 after a very slow start to the season.
“There were some games when I was not selected to start, as I was in a slump, but I feel good at the plate right now,” Murata said.
Taishi Ota was in the cleanup spot in his season debut and got his year off to a strong start by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.
“It’s a lot different than playing in Giants Kyujo,” Ota said, referring to the stadium in Yomiuriland where the Kyojin‘s ni-gun team plays. “The fans are exciting and so is the atmosphere. I want to play here all year.”
Tetsuya Yamaguchi (1-1) retired the only batter he faced and picked up the win in relief after throwing just four pitches. Scott Mathieson worked a clean eighth and Hirokazu Sawamura converted his ninth save of the year in the final frame.
The Giants began the day tied with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows atop the Central League standings. Their win, and the Swallows’ loss against the Hanshin Tigers, leaves the Giants alone at the top.
The victory also comes at a time when a number of Yomiuri stars, including Shinnosuke Abe and captain Hayato Sakamoto, are out with injuries.
“We’re playing without our captain and other key players, but the substitutes have stepped up,” Murata said.
Dragons player-manager Motonobu Tanishige was honored for having played in the 3,000th game of his career. Tanishige is second in games played in NPB history, trailing only Katsuya Nomura, who appeared in 3,017.
Tanishige’s club is currently in the middle of a rough stretch, having lost all but one game of their just-concluded six-game road trip.
Ryosuke Hirata provided one of the few bright spots on Thursday with a three-run home run, his second of the year, that tied the score in the sixth.
Starter Raul Valdes (0-3) took the loss after being charged with five runs — three earned — in 6 1/3 innings.
The Giants got on the board first, taking a three-run lead on Murata’s blast to left-center.
Chunichi struck back in the sixth, as Hirata followed singles by Yohei Oshima and Kyohei Kamezawa with his home run to right.
Yomiuri came to the plate looking to break a 3-3 tie in the seventh. Murata drew a walk to begin the inning and a Hisayoshi Chono double put runners on second and third. Kazunari Sanematsu hit a grounder to third baseman Shuhei Takahashi, who threw the ball away, an error that allowed two runs to come home. The Dragons were given a slight reprieve after the umpires ruled the Yomiuri third-base coach had touched Chono, resulting in an out, rather than a run scored, making the score 4-3.
The next batter, pinch hitter Tatsuhiko Kinjo, reached safely on another throwing error by Takahashi, and Itaru Hashimoto singled to load the bases. Yoshinobu Takahashi drew a walk against reliever Shinji Tajima to bring another run home and make the score 5-3.
The Giants ended an up-and-down month by winning nine of their last 13 games. Yomiuri was 13-11 in April.
“It was cold when we started the season, but it’s getting warmer now and I hope we can put up a winning record in May as well,” Hara said. “We’ll do our best to stay in first place.”
Tigers sweep Swallows
Nishinomiya Hyogo Pref. KYODO
At Koshien Stadium, Hiroki Uemoto’s three-run double broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning as Hanshin came from a run down to win 5-1 on Thursday and complete a three-game sweep of Tokyo Yakult that knocked the CL rival Swallows out of first place.
BayStars 1, Carp 0
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Takayuki Kajitani homered off Hiroshima starter Yusuke Nomura (1-2) in the fourth inning, and Yokohama’s Kazuki Mishima (2-1) worked eight innings to earn the win.
Buffaloes 4, Eagles 1
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, pinch hitter Naotaka Takehara delivered a three-run come-from-behind double in the seventh inning, and Orix closer Yoshihisa Hirano returned from an ankle injury to record his first save since April 1 in a win over Tohoku Rakuten.
Marines 3, Lions 2
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Shogo Nakamura, Chiba Lotte’s top draft pick last autumn, led off the bottom of the first with his first career home run, while Ikuhiro Kiyota and Shota Omine each drove in a run in the second.
Former Seibu ace Hideaki Wakui (3-3) worked eight innings for the win against his former club.