For one night, it almost felt like old times for the Yomiuri Giants. Shinnosuke Abe and Hayato Sakamoto were hitting home runs and Tetsuya Utsumi was making sure the other team didn’t.
Abe connected on a two-run shot, Sakamoto hit a solo blast and Utsumi kept things under control on the mound as the Kyojin beat the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 3-1 in a battle of intracity rivals on Friday night in front of a crowd of 45,181 at Tokyo Dome.
“I put some runners on base but was able to maintain a good rhythm and stay out of trouble,” Utsumi said. “This has been my pitching style.”
Utsumi was supposed to have pitched against the first-place Hiroshima Carp on Tuesday, but that game was rained out. The Giants held him back three days, before sending him to the mound to face Yakult.
Utsumi (6-3) wasn’t lights out, but neither were the Swallows’ hitters. He gave the Giants seven innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits while striking out two and walking three.
“Utsumi gave us seven strong innings,” Giants manager Yoshinobu Takahashi said. “I’m pleased he pitched so well after he got rained out of his last scheduled start in (Gifu).”
Utsumi said he played catch a few times during his unexpected break and was ready for his start Friday.
“They have a good lineup, and I especially tried to keep the ball down against (Tetsuto) Yamada and (Wladimir) Balentien,” Utsumi said.
Yamada, second in the Central League with 30 home runs, and Balentien were a combined 0-for-6 with a pair of walks.
Utsumi has won his last two starts and five of his last six decisions. Scott Mathieson kept Yakult at bay in the eighth and Hirokazu Sawamura converted his 25th save of the season in the ninth.
Giants manager Takahashi has gone back to a familiar look at the cleanup spot in the lineup, placing Abe, once a stalwart at No. 4, in that position for the past four games. Abe has responded with two home runs and seven RBIs over that span.
He opened the scoring on Friday, following a Sakamoto single with a first-inning home run that just got over the wall in right-center, his seventh of the season.
“It’s always better to pitch with a lead,” Utsumi said. “So I was encouraged after Abe put us ahead.”
Sakamoto finished 2-for-3 and tacked on a run in the sixth with a solo home run. Sakamoto, hitting .324, has 17 home runs on the year, his most since hitting 31 in 2010.
That trio leading the way conjured up memories of the glory days of the Giants’ not-so-distant past. They’ve all been regulars since 2008, and the Giants have won five pennants and two Japan Series titles in that span.
They’re far behind in this year’s pennant race, but made up a little ground on the first-place Carp, who lost to the Yokohama BayStars on Friday. The second-place Giants are nine games back in the standings.
“We have to take it one day, one game at a time and try to chip away at their lead,” Utsumi said. “It will be difficult to catch up, but we will try our best.”
The last-place Swallows dropped their fourth straight game. Takahiro Araki provided some offense with an RBI double in the second, but that’s all the defending CL champions could muster.
Kyle Davies (2-2) took the loss after allowing three runs on four hits in six innings. He struck out three.
Hirata sparks Dragons
Nishinomiya, Hyogo Pref. — Ryosuke Hirata’s three-run home run in the first inning was enough for the Chunichi Dragons to end Hanshin Tigers’ four-game winning streak on Friday with a 3-1 win in the Central League.
Hanshin starter Shintaro Fujinami (4-7) began the game by striking out the first two batters. But he then allowed two singles before Hirata connected on a 153-kph fastball as Fujinami went on to lose his fourth straight start.
Chunichi’s Junki Ito (1-1) picked up his first win in four years after a strong showing, allowing a run on three hits and three walks over 5-1/3 innings and fanning two in a 57-pitch outing before five relievers did finished the game.
“I was up against Hanshin’s offense that has been firing, so I just tried not to get overwhelmed. My teammates got me early runs and I also have my relievers to thank,” Ito said.
The right-hander faced the minimum number of batters through the first four innings. Ito issued two walks with two outs in the fifth to load the bases but struck out Fujinami to end the inning.
The only run Ito yielded came in the sixth, when he gave up a single and a double with one out before getting the hook. The Tigers scored their lone run on a groundout after reliever Toshiya Okada took the mound.
Fujinami, who hurled 161 pitches over eight innings on July 8 when he allowed eight runs against the Hiroshima Carp, threw 113 pitches against the Dragons. He fanned 13 and allowed three runs on five hits and one walk over seven innings.
BayStars 19, Carp 3
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Yokohama bombarded CL-leading Hiroshima with 24 hits including five home runs.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo slugged two three-run homers off Yusuke Nomura (12-3), while Takayuki Kajitani hit a grand slam in the sixth.
Hawks 6, Fighters 4
At Sapporo Dome, Yuki Yanagita tied the game in the sixth with an RBI double and hit a solo homer in the eighth as Fukuoka SoftBank snapped its four-game losing streak against Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
Tsuyoshi Wada (11-3) gave up two runs over seven innings. He leads the PL in wins.
Buffaloes 7, Lions 1
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Orix’s Takahiro Matsuba (4-5) went the distance for the first time in his career after Ryoichi Adachi hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the third off Seibu’s Kona Takahashi (3-8).
Takahashi allowed five runs over 3-2/3 innings to lose his seventh straight decision.
Eagles 9, Marines 0
At Chiba’s QVC Marine Field, Ryo Hijirisawa hit a bases-loaded, two-run double in the eighth off Chiba Lotte reliever Naoya Masuda (3-1) before Tohoku Rakuten added seven runs in the ninth.
Eagles starter Manabu Mima (7-4) and the Marines’ Ayumu Ishikawa both tossed seven shutout innings.