It didn’t take Luis Cruz very long to show Yomiuri Giants fans what they’d been missing for the past two months.
Cruz, returning from an ankle injury, sparked a big inning with a two-run home run in his first at-bat and it was smooth sailing for the Kyojin from that point in a 5-2 win over the Yokohama BayStars in front of 43,602 on Tuesday at Tokyo Dome.
“It was great to get Cruz back,” Giants manager Yoshinobu Takahashi said. “We missed him.”
Cruz was seeing his first action with the ichi-gun team since June 9. He suffered an injury to his left ankle in April, and was briefly taken off the roster before returning in May. He was taken off the roster again later because of pain in the ankle.
He went to the U.S. for two days for a second opinion and returned June 17. Cruz began playing in farm team games late last month and made his return to the ichi-gun squad on Tuesday in the seventh spot in the starting lineup and playing second base.
He said it was good to be back.
“Two months, it felt like it was an entire season,” Cruz said. “It’s the first time I’ve been hurt during a season and come back. I’ve been hurt at the end of a season, but the season was over. It’s tough. I always tried to talk to Garrett (Jones) and (Hayato) Sakamoto and (Shuichi) Murata just to say hi.
“Last night, I went to sleep, and I was very excited. I talked to my wife, and I felt like it was opening day for me today. So I feel very good.”
The Giants are currently in the middle of a hot streak and have won nine of their last 11 games. The Kyojin are trying to keep the pressure on the Central League-leading Hiroshima Carp. The Carp began the day with a 5 1/2-game lead in the standings.
“I always checked the scores,” Cruz said. “But, I just like to play baseball, I don’t like to watch it. But I saw the box scores. I see that we’re playing really well, so I want to do my best so we can continue doing this. Hopefully we finish the season in first place.”
Cruz made his first appearance at the plate in the bottom of the second with Murata on first base. His first swing came on the third pitch of the at-bat, and Cruz crushed a 111-kph slider from Yasutomo Kubo into the second deck over the left-field stands.
The Giants weren’t done in the inning.
Seiji Kobayashi singled and advanced on a sacrifice bunt, and Hisayoshi Chono drew a two-out walk. They each moved up a base on a wild pitch, then came home on a double from Itaru Hashimoto. Sakamoto followed that hit with an RBI single, and the Giants led 5-0.
Yomiuri’s Shinnosuke Abe extended his hitting streak to 21 games with a single in the bottom of the seventh. Abe is also hitting .383 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in the 12 games since he was installed as the cleanup hitter on July 24.
Sakamoto finished with a pair of hits to lift his league-leading average to .345. Sakamoto has had at least two hits in six of his last seven games.
“Sakamoto has been really hot,” Takahashi said. “It’s exciting to watch him hit like this.”
Eight of the nine Giants in the starting lineup had at least one hit against Yokohama.
That group included starting pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi, who singled in the sixth. On the mound, Utsumi (7-3) allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings to pick up the victory. Utsumi struck out five, walked one and hit a batter. He has won his last three decisions.
“My condition was good tonight,” Utsumi said. “I felt at ease.”
The BayStars fell behind early and couldn’t dig themselves out of an early five-run hole.
“We tried to come back a little bit, but they were five runs ahead,” said Yokohama manager Alex Ramirez. “That was the turning point.”
Yokohama slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo finished 1-for-3 and drove in a run and Tatsuhiko Kuramoto was also credited with an RBI.
Kubo (5-6) pitched well before and after the second inning, but couldn’t hold the Giants at bay in the pivotal frame.
“I think in that inning, he couldn’t control his pitches,” Ramirez said. “After two strikes, he wasn’t able to make good pitches. After that he was really good. Just one inning.”
Dragons 2, Swallows 1 (10)
Carp 10, Tigers 3
Lions 3, Fighters 1
Buffaloes 4, Hawks 0
Eagles 4, Marines 2