Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Stars step up to steer Giants past archrival Tigers

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

A red-hot Randy Messenger was dealing, and it didn’t look as if the Yomiuri Giants were going to have many chances to cool him off.

When an opportunity finally did present itself, the Giants didn’t let it go to waste.

Hayato Sakamoto drove in the first run of a three-run sixth inning, Tetsuya Utsumi had a solid outing on the mound and the Kyojin held on to beat the rival Hanshin Tigers 3-2 on Tuesday night at Tokyo Dome.

“I didn’t do well in my first two at-bats but felt I had to do something to break the tie with runners on base,” Sakamoto said.

The Giants snapped a three-game losing streak with the victory.

Sakamoto had gone down swinging in his first two trips to the plate but broke a scoreless tie with a single in the sixth. Sakamoto connected on a 149-kph fastball and the ball flew just out of the grasp of Messenger and second baseman Hiroki Uemoto, allowing Daisuke Nakai to score from second.

Hisayoshi Chono drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Shinnosuke Abe brought in another with a single later in the inning to make the score 3-0. The Giants’ cleanup trio accounted for all of Yomiuri’s runs.

“That’s the job of the 3-4-5 hitters, to drive in runs,” Sakamoto said.

The Giants didn’t muster much offense during the game; they were limited to four singles, but the one big inning proved to be enough.

“A sac fly, a ball that hit off my glove, if that ball doesn’t hit off my glove, it’s probably a double-play ball,” Messenger said. “Instead, I changed the direction of the ball, knocked Uemoto out of position. It sucks. It’s baseball.”

For awhile it looked as if the Giants wouldn’t get anything. Messenger was on fire at the start, racking up seven strikeouts over three innings.

He was beating the Giants in the strike zone, putting pressure on hitters with his fastball and throwing them off balance with his off-speed offerings. Messenger continued dealing until the sixth, when a single by Nakai and an error by first baseman Mauro Gomez put the Giants in business.

Messenger allowed three runs on four hits in six innings. He struck out a season-high 11 and walked one batter. Messenger has had at least 10 strikeouts in each of his last two starts.

“You go out there and just have bad luck, and then the next thing you know, I make a couple of mistakes and we’re down 3-0,” Messenger said. “It sucks.”

Giants lefty Tetsuya Utsumi didn’t have Messenger’s strikeout total, but kept up with his counterpart on the scoreboard long enough for his team to put up some runs. Utsumi gave the Giants 6 2/3 solid innings to win his fourth straight decision.

“I felt nervous every inning and was just hoping our team could score for me because Messenger was striking out a lot of our hitters,” Utsumi said.

Utsumi was charged with one run and allowed four hits. He struck out five and walked one. He got the hook after allowing a two-out single and a walk in the seventh.

“I got into a good rhythm and kept it going as long as I could,” Utsumi said. “I was hoping to finish the inning at least.”

He’ll try to take his current momentum into an expected matchup against the first-place Hiroshima Carp next week. The Carp are 10½ games ahead of the Giants and the Yokohama BayStars in the Central League.

“We are under pressure to keep winning and close the gap on Hiroshima,” Utsumi said. “I will do my best if I pitch against the Carp next week.”

The Tigers tried to claw their way back late in the contest. Hanshin got on the board in the seventh when pinch hitter Fumihito Haraguchi drew a bases-loaded walk against reliever Ryosuke Miyaguni. The Tigers crept even closer in the eighth when Takashi Toritani homered off Giants relief pitcher Scott Mathieson, hitting his sixth of the season.

Hanshin put two runners on against closer Hirokazu Sawamura before the Giants righty finally shut the door to convert his 20th save of the season.

The teams return to the Big Egg for the second game of their series on Wednesday. Kazuto Taguchi (3-6) will take the mound for the Giants against Suguru Iwasaki (1-2).

Yamaguchi tosses three-hitter

Yokohama KYODO

Shun Yamaguchi (6-4) threw a three-hit shutout, and the Yokohama BayStars got offense from the bottom of the order in a 4-0 win over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Tuesday night in the Central League.

Reserve catcher Shuto Takajo singled in the first run off Swallows starter Hirofumi Yamanaka (3-7) and shortstop Toshihiko Kuramoto hit his first home run of the season.

Carp 4, Dragons 1

At Toyama Alpen Stadium, Yusuke Nomura (10-2) allowed a run in six innings, on three hits and a walk, and Hiroshima broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh on an RBI single by Seiya Suzuki and a two-run double by Ko Shimozuru in a win over Chunichi.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Fighters 8, Eagles 3

At Yamagata’s Shonai Bank & Nisshin Seiyaku Stadium, Luis Mendoza allowed three runs over seven innings and Haruki Nishikawa delivered a tie-breaking, two-run double in the seventh as Hokkaido Nippon Ham defeated Tohoku Rakuten to win its 11th straight game.

Brandon Laird gave Mendoza (5-4)a two-run, second-inning lead with his 23rd home run of the season, but the Mexican right-hander, blew a two-run lead. Mendoza surrendered seven hits without a walk, allowing the Eagles to tie it after Toshiaki Imae singled home Zelous Wheeler in the second and fourth innings.

In the seventh, Rakuten lefty Takahiro Shiomi (4-5) allowed a pair of singles and issued an intentional walk that brought Nishikawa to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. He put a sweet swing on a hanging first-pitch slider and hit it off the base of the wall in center.

“I was really motivated after they intentionally walked the batter before me,” Nishikawa said. “It’s been a long time since I had a big RBI so I did some fist pumping at second base.”

Fighters ace pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Otani then celebrated his 22nd birthday by hitting a jam shot off the handle to shallow left that scored two. Otani was generously given an error when he reached second after left fielder Ryo Hijirisawa overran the ball. Otani scored the fifth run of the inning on a Kensuke Tanaka single.

Tetsuro Nishida hit a solo homer off Mendoza in the bottom of the inning, and a Brandon Laird RBI single completed the scoring in the ninth.

Buffaloes 3, Hawks 0

At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Yuki Nishi (4-8) allowed four hits and three walks over eight innings, and Yoshihisa Hirano worked the ninth for his 15th save as Orix sent league-leading Fukuoka SoftBank to its first four-game losing streak of the season and its third straight shutout defeat.

Marines 2, Lions 1 (10)

At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, with the Seibu outfield playing shallow to prevent the runner on second from scoring on a single in the 10th, Chiba Lotte’s Yamaico Navarro easily drove a high fastball over the outfield for a sayonara single.

Marines ace Hideaki Wakui allowed a run in nine innings, while Lions hurler ace Takayuki Kishi threw eight innings of one-run ball.

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