Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Swallows beat Giants in slugfest

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Yomiuri Giants provided the fireworks in the opener and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows lit up the scoreboard in second game.

In the finale of the year’s first three-game set between the crosstown rivals, they traded blows until only one was left standing.

That turned out to be Yakult, which got home runs from Norichika Aoki, Munetaka Murakami and Naomichi Nishiura, in addition to some big strikeouts from reliever David Huff, during an 11-6 win on Sunday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.

Murakami’s homer to start the fifth broke a 6-6 tie and gave Yakult a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“I made the last out when I had a chance (with the bases loaded in the first inning) and because I didn’t want to be a burden on the team, I went into that at-bat thinking I was going to get a hit,” Murakami said.”

He did more than that, hitting a ball that struck the camera pit in right-center.

“That home run gave us the lead,” Swallows manager Junji Ogawa said. “It was a really good at-bat.”

There was no shortage of offense at the Big Egg, with the clubs combining for 17 runs, 26 hits and six home runs in front of a crowd of 43,021.

It was back-and-forth game early, with Yakult scoring and Yomiuri finding ways to answer. But after Yakult scored three in the fifth, Yomiuri was out of responses.

“That’s the mentality we have with (Takuro) Ishii-coach, our hitting coach, never give up,” Swallows outfielder Wladimir Balentien said. “If we put up six and they come back, we just have to go back and try to put up another six.

“So far, it’s worked every time some team comes back, we fight back and try to get those runs back.”

The Swallows banged out a season-high 17 hits, with eight of their nine staters recording at least one. Yuhei Takai was the only starter without a hit, but reached base after being hit by a pitch in the fourth.

Yuhei Nakamura was 3-for-5 with a double, Nishiura had a single, double and home run in five at-bats, while driving in three runs, and Tetsuto Yamada was 3-for-5 with an RBI. Aoki finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. Seven different Yakult players drove in at least one run.

One of Nishiura’s hits was a three-run homer in the third. Aoki hit his solo shot in the first.

Ryota Igarashi threw an inning of scoreless relief in the fourth and was credited with the win. Yomiuri’s Ryosuke Miyaguni was charged with the loss.

Yakult starter Kenji Takahashi allowed six runs in three innings, but five Yakult relievers held the Giants to five singles and a double the rest of the way.

All six of Yomiuri’s runs came on two-run homers by Kazuma Okamoto in the first and Yoshihiro Maru and Christian Villanueva in the third.

After the Swallows went ahead 9-6 in the the top of the fifth, Yomiuri looked poised to strike back in the bottom half against Huff after a single by Hayato Sakamoto and a double from Maru.

Huff stamped out the rally by getting Okamoto to swing through an 0-2 cutter and striking out Villanueva with a change-up in the eighth pitch of that at-bat.

“They’re guys who are trying to get extended and hit the ball far,” Huff said. “I was just trying to make them hit a pitch that’s down and that’s moving late and that’s not where they want it.

“They’re looking for something out over the plate to do some damage with. All I’m trying to do is just keep that out of that part of the zone.”

The Giants got two on with two outs in the sixth, only for Huff to strike out pinch hitter Takumi Oshiro to end that threat.

Huff struck out five in two scoreless frames and was the only pitcher on either side to throw more than one inning without giving up a run.

Yakult came into the series on Friday night in first place and fell back to second after a loss. The Birds moved back on top with Saturday’s win and added another win in the series finale as they improved to 10-5.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Ogawa said. “We’ve only just begun the season and it’s still really early.”

BayStars 4, Carp 2

In Yokohama, Shoichi Ino (2-0) held the Hiroshima Carp to two runs over six innings, while Jose Lopez and Neftali Soto homered for the Yokohama BayStars in their win.

Tigers 5, Dragons 2

In Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, the Hanshin Tigers snapped a four-game losing skid, beating the Chunichi Dragons behind seven innings of two-run ball from Yuki Nishi (2-1).

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Hawks 6, Eagles 1

In Sendai, Catcher Takuya Kai drove in four runs, while rookie Rei Takahashi allowed a run over seven innings as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks beat the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Eagles rookie Hiroki Kondo (0-1) retired the first five Hawks batters he faced before allowing four straight hits in the second inning. With two on and two outs, Kai homered to open the scoring. In the sixth, Kai drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in the first run of SoftBank’s second three-run inning.

“It’s been hard not being able to meet the manager’s and the coaches’ expectations, so this was welcome. Just want to keep playing good games, one at a time,” Kai said.

Takahashi, a submarine right-hander, kept the Eagles hitters on the ground as he allowed two hits and three walks, while striking out three. He improved to 3-0 in three starts this season.

Lions 11, Buffaloes 3

In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, the Seibu Lions, playing without shortstop Sosuke Genda for the first time since Opening Day 2017, blasted the Orix Buffaloes. Genda was hit by a pitch on Saturday and was wearing a supporter on his right wrist. Genda is the only player in Nippon Professional Baseball to play every inning of his first two pro seasons.

Fighters 3, Marines 1

In Sapporo, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters came from behind in a three-run seventh inning, aided by an error and a wild pitch in a win over the Chiba Lotte Marines.