Randy Messenger and the Hanshin Tigers welcomed Kentaro Taira to the big time on Thursday in a comprehensive 10-1 Central League victory over the front-running Yomiuri Giants.
Messenger (1-1) allowed a run in eight innings. The veteran right-hander gave up seven hits and a walk, while striking out four and driving in two runs with a single.
He surrendered a leadoff double to open the first, but weathered the first storm.
“My last couple of outings I hadn’t pitched that well in the first inning. Getting out of that jam was a confidence builder,” Messenger said.
Taira, making his CL debut, allowed four runs on four hits and three walks in 3-2/3 innings, while striking out four.
Former big leaguer Kosuke Fukudome broke the ice against Taira in the fourth with a two-run homer. Taira, a 20-year-old taken in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, had allowed a leadoff single but nothing else until issuing a one-out walk to Matt Hague in the inning.
Fukudome followed by barreling a high 1-0 fastball into the seats in right to make it 2-0. After a two-out walk by Takashi Toritani and a single by Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Giants elected to pitch around the No. 8 hitter to get out of the inning against Messenger.
The big Tigers pitcher fell behind in the count but battled from behind in the count, fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches before running the count full and singling between first and second.
Messenger said he was thrilled to get a chance to hit and do some damage, and had to work overtime since Taira pitched him away as if he were a threat to pull the ball over the wall. When he did bat, Messenger was so locked in he forgot the count and tried to take first base on ball three. He had a big grin on his face as the umpires summoned him back to the batter’s box.
“I was happy to get a chance to hit,” he said. “I’m still a ballplayer and I want to hit, want to compete. I fouled off so many pitches I lost track. (On ball three) I thought that’s a walk, ‘Sweet.’ But it worked out OK. Sure enough he left a pitch up in the zone and I was able to get the bat on it.”
Reliever Mizuki Tsuchida got Yomiuri out of the fourth inning, but got beaten up in the fifth, when six of the first seven batters reached base and five scored. Mauro Gomez singled in one, while a sacrifice fly by Toritani made it 6-0. Catcher Taichi Okazaki doubled in two and a wild pitch made it 9-0.
Messenger held off the hosts in the fifth after they opened the inning with a leadoff single and a double, but finally surrendered a run in the sixth on three Giants’ singles. Luis Cruz cashed in with his one-out flare over short bringing in the runner from third.
“I just kept busting them in with high fastballs trying to get them to pop them up and it worked out like that,” said Messenger, who got seven pop-ups to his infielders, twice with less than two outs and a runner on third.
With both teams substituting liberally, Taiga Egoshi, who replaced Fukudome in right, homered to open the Tigers’ ninth.
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