The Yomiuri Giants trailed the Chunichi Dragons for 8 2/3 innings on Saturday afternoon. When Shinnosuke Abe finally gave them the lead, it was for keeps.
Abe ended the second game of the season with a sayonara three-run home run that gave the Giants a 4-2 victory over the Dragons in front of a crowd of 44,351 at Tokyo Dome.
“I was just hoping for a chance,” Abe said. “When (Hayato) Sakamoto walked, I knew I had a chance to tie or win the game with a hit, and just looked for a good pitch to hit.”
The contest had belonged to Chunichi starter Raul Valdes and the Dragons for virtually the entire afternoon. Chunichi led by a run going into the ninth with closer Shinji Tajima on the mound.
Yomiuri pinch hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei struck out to open the frame, but Shuichi Murata, also pinch-hitting, singled to right. Soichiro Tateoka hit into a fielder’s choice, which brought Sakamoto to the plate with two outs. Sakamoto fouled off the fourth pitch of his at-bat to make the count 2-2, before taking two balls to draw the walk.
Abe then connected on a 1-1 forkball to bring the Giants fans to their feet in the Big Egg.
Abe, who drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh, drove in all four runs for the Kyojin. The sayonara homer was the seventh of his career. The Yomiuri veteran hit the first opening day homer of his career on Friday against the Dragons.
Tetsuya Yamaguchi earned the win in relief after throwing one scoreless inning. Rookie Tappei Tanioka made his debut for Yomiuri, tossing two scoreless innings in relief. Shun Ikeda also made his first pro appearance, allowing no runs in one inning of work.
“We had two rookie pitchers make their debuts,” Abe said. “They did their best and kept us in the game. It left us with a chance to win.”
Valdes held the Giants in check early on and helped his own cause with a solo home run in the third. The homer to right was the second of his career in Japan, which began in 2015. Valdes last went deep against the Yokohama BayStars on July 11, 2016.
Naomichi Donoue added to Chunichi’s lead with an RBI double in the fourth, making the score 2-0.
Chunichi missed a chance to add to its advantage in the top of the seventh. The team loaded the bases with one out against Tanioka, but Alex Guerrero grounded a ball back to the rookie pitcher, who started an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
The Dragons nearly allowed the lead to slip away in the bottom of the seventh.
Yomiuri pinch hitter Ryota Wakiya hit a one-out single, Daisuke Nakai walked and Tateoka singled to load the bases. That ended Valdes’ outing, with Katsuki Matayoshi coming on in relief. Matayoshi struck out Sakamoto, but walked Abe to force in a run. He then retired Casey McGehee on a grounder to short to end the threat.
Yomiuri kept Chunichi off the board in the eighth and ninth innings, before sealing a dramatic victory on Abe’s homer. The team is now off to a 2-0 start and will send Kan Otake to the mound to start the series finale on Sunday against Kazuki Yoshimi.
“We’ve had a great start to our season, but this is only two games,” Abe said. “There is still a long way to go this season.”
BayStars hammer Swallows
New import Phil Klein (1-0) allowed a run in five innings to earn the win, and Takayuki Kajitani had three doubles, two runs and two RBIs as the Yokohama BayStars defeated the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 6-1 at Jingu Staduim on Saturday.
Carp 9, Tigers 8 (10)
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Tomohiro Abe’s 10th-inning walk-off RBI single lifted defending CL champion Hiroshima past Hanshin to its first win of the year.
Both teams’ pitchers combined to issue 27 walks, breaking Japanese pro baseball’s 80-year-old single-game record of 26.
Hawks 4, Marines 1
At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Kenichi Nakata worked seven scoreless innings as Fukuoka SoftBank beat Chiba Lotte to improve to 2-0 in the young season.
Nakata (1-0) allowed only three hits but walked four, while striking out six. He surrendered a leadoff single to open the game, but with the runner going on a full count, Ikuhiro Kiyota flied out to center fielder Yuki Yanagita, who doubled the runner off first.
“That double play by Gita really got me on a roll,” Nakata said. “We played a good game yesterday and won, and I wanted to keep up what (opening day starter Tsuyoshi) Wada started.”
A day after neither team could score through the first six innings, Seiichi Uchikawa singled home a run in the first and then doubled and scored in SoftBank’s two-run fourth.
“Runs were really hard to come by yesterday, so we wanted to score in the first badly,” said Uchikawa, who singled home leadoff hitter Kenta Imamiya from third with two outs when the Hawks played for one run.
Lotte didn’t mount a real threat until the ninth, when it loaded the bases with one out against Sho Iwasaki, who is trying to hold down the setup job in place of the injured Robert Suarez.
Dennis Sarfate took over, surrendered one run on a sac fly and ended the game with a groundout. His second save of the season was also his 177th in Japan, tying the record for foreign relievers set by former Yomiuri Giant and Yokohama BayStars right-hander Marc Kroon.
SoftBank designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs against the Marines, for whom he played the past three seasons.
Lotte starter Yuji Nishino (0-1) allowed four runs, three earned over six innings. He gave up seven hits and two walks, while striking out three.
Fighters 3, Lions 1
At Sapporo Dome, Luis Mendoza (1-0) allowed a run in five innings, but four Hokkaido Nippon Ham relievers allowed four hits but no walks over four scoreless frames to hold off Seibu.
Kensuke Kondo and Shohei Otani each had three of the Fighters’ 10 hits.
Eagles 13, Buffaloes 4
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Orix starter Phil Coke (0-1), a new acquisition, surrendered five runs in 2-2/3 innings as Tohoku Rakuten won for the second straight day.
The Eagles’ Japhet Amador went 3-for-5, scored two runs and drove in two.
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