Whoever wins the Sawamura Award this year might want to do whatever it takes to avoid Randy Messenger and the Hanshin Tigers on Opening Day next season.

Things didn’t really work out so well for the last two recipients when they went up against the big Nevadan and his teammates.

Messenger shut down the Yomiuri Giants’ hitters, Kosuke Fukudome and Yusuke Oyama hit the first two home runs of the 2018 NPB season, both off Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano, and the Tigers got their year off to a roaring start with a 5-1 win over their CL rivals in the season opener in front of a crowd of 46,318 on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.

“Anytime your team puts up runs early for you, you gotta make sure you keep putting up zeros,” said Messenger, who allowed one run over seven innings. “That’s what I was able to do today. It was thanks to my teammates. They did a great job today.”

Fukudome homered in the second to stake the Tigers to an early 1-0 lead.

“I was just thinking about trying to get on base going into that at-bat,” said Fukudome. The home run was the first of the year in NPB.

Fukudome, who will turn 41 on April 26, also recorded a pair of singles. According to Daily Sports, the veteran outfielder is the 10th player age 40 or older to homer on Opening Day.

Oyama went deep in the third, connecting on a two-run shot that put the team up 4-0.

“I’m glad I was able to get us some more runs there,” Oyama said.

The run support only made things easier for Messenger.

“It makes it a lot easier,” Messenger said. “Then, it builds confidence on the bench. Then everybody starts waking up and the team’s like, hey, now we know we can get this guy.”

Not many teams got to Sugano last season, when the Yomiuri ace was 17-5 and took home the Sawamura Award. He had the worst of his four career Opening Day starts on Friday, allowing five runs on 12 hits over seven innings. His night was similar to that of the Hiroshima Carp’s Kris Johnson, the 2016 Sawamura winner who allowed five runs in a loss to Messenger and the Tigers in the 2017 opener.

Messenger, on the other hand, was in control for most of Friday’s contest.

“Everything felt good today,” Messenger said. “The plan that I wanted to execute today worked pretty well. I gave up seven hits, but they were all singles. The only real jam I got myself into was in the first inning and obviously in the seventh inning and gave up that run.”

Messenger allowed just the single run and seven hits while striking out five.

While the Tigers were responsible for the year’s first two home runs, a near-homer in the second by Yomiuri’s Hisayoshi Chono, that was ruled foul, led to Yomiuri’s Yoshinobu Takahashi becoming the first Central League manager to request a replay review.

Under new rules in effect this season, managers can initiate replay reviews until they’ve failed twice within nine innings (an extra challenge is granted after the ninth). Takahashi failed in his first challenge as the umpires quickly ruled the call would stand.

Daikan Yoh finished with a pair of hits and drove in Yomiuri’s lone run with a single in the seventh. Seiji Kobayashi also had a pair of hits. Free-agent signing Alex Guerrero, the 2017 CL home run leader, was 1-for-4 in his Yomiuri debut.

Yomiuri pitcher Kyosuke Takagi came on in relief in the eighth, making his first appearance since his involvement in a gambling scandal in 2015. He was suspended for the 2016 season after being found guilty of betting on games and signed to Yomiuri’s developmental roster in 2017.

He was showered with boos from Tigers fans during pregame introductions and again when he took the mound. Takagi retired three of the four batters he faced in one scoreless inning.

Hanshin loaded the bases after Fukudome’s homer in the second, and Shun Takayama hit a bouncing ball to second with two outs. Takayama slid head-first into first base to beat Naoki Yoshikawa’s throw as Oyama scored to make the score 2-0.

Oyama made it 4-0 with his homer in the third and Wilin Rosario, making his NPB debut, tacked on another run with his first hit of the year, an RBI single.

Carp rally past Dragons


The defending Central League champion Hiroshima Carp overturned a 3-2, sixth-inning deficit against the Chunichi Dragons on a Brad Eldred leadoff homer, two singles and a two-run Kosuke Tanaka double, earning a 6-3 victory on Friday night.

Swallows 7, BayStars 3


Lions 11, Fighters 2

Hawks 2, Buffaloes 0

Eagles at Marines (late)

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