Japanese baseball may still be trying to adjust to a new normal, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
When you need a big hit, send Yoshiyuki Kamei to the plate.
Kamei made his only at-bat of the night count, connecting on a sayonara home run to send the Yomiuri Giants to an 8-7 win over the Yokohama BayStars on opening day at Tokyo Dome.
“I’m just so happy,” Kamei said after the game. “Everyone was just focused. We were all giving everything we had with the feeling that we would win today somehow.”
The Giants had led for most of the game, but the BayStars pulled even on a two-run single by Shunta Tanaka that made the score 7-7 in the top of the ninth.
Manager Tatsunori Hara called on Kamei to pinch hit to lead off the bottom half and he sent the third pitch he saw high over the wall in right field.
“I was just staying prepared and looking to the manager to be ready,” Kamei said.
The Giants veteran is no stranger to clutch hits and is seemingly always ready to deliver when the team needs it. When he went to plate in the ninth, it was just business as usual for him.
“I didn’t have any nerves or any strange feelings,” Kamei said.
Kamei’s homer was met with cheers from the majority of the 9,991 in attendance for the opener. Because of limits in place due to COVID-19, it was a far smaller crowd than usual for an opening day game. It was still a welcome change from 2020, when NPB opened its season in empty ballparks.
“I just have so much gratitude for the fans,” Kamei said.
Kamei’s hit stole the spotlight away from Tanaka, his former teammate. Tanaka spent his first three years with Yomiuri before being claimed by the BayStars as compensation after the Giants signed former BayStars outfielder Takayuki Kajitani in free agency during the offseason.
Tanaka returned to Tokyo Dome with a bang, going 3-for-4 with six RBIs.
He looked like he may have spared the BayStars from a loss with his hit in the ninth. Due to restaurants and bars in the Tokyo area closing earlier as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, NPB announced before the season that games wouldn’t go into extra innings and would end after the ninth.
The new rule looked as if it might come into play on the first night of the season before Kamei took matters into his own hands.
Yomiuri closer Kota Nakagawa gave up two runs in the ninth to blow the save but ended up as the winning pitcher. Yokohama’s Kazuki Mishima took the loss.
Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano made his seventh start on opening day but was denied his fifth win, which would’ve been a team record. Sugano, who left the mound in line for the victory, allowed three runs on eight hits. He struck out four and walked three.
The Giants’ win also spoiled the debut of new BayStars manager Daisuke Miura.
Yokohama fell behind early as starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi struggled with his control.
Kajitani and Akihiro Wakabayashi each drew walks to start the bottom of the first. Hayato Sakamoto followed with a single and Kajitani scored on a throwing error by left fielder Keita Sano.
Kazuma Okamoto made the score 2-0 with a double off the wall and Zelous Wheeler singled in a run later in the inning.
Yokohama struck back in the second on Tanaka’s sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk drawn by Masayuki Kuwahara. Tanaka tied score with an RBI single in the third.
Yoshihiro Maru and Wheeler drew one-out walks in the bottom half and Takumi Oshiro cleared the bases with a three-run homer to make it 6-3.
Tanaka struck again in the seventh, driving in a pair of runs with a single.
Yomiuri was able to pad the lead in the eighth when Wheeler doubled off the wall to score Maru and make it 7-5.
Sano drew a one-out walk in the ninth and Toshiro Miyazaki doubled to put runners on second and third. Yamato Maeda was retired on a hard liner to second but Tanaka tied the game with his single to left.
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