This one was tough to swallow for the big-spending Yomiuri Giants.
All their high-priced talent couldn't buy them a win Friday night as they opened the 2008 Central League season at Tokyo's Jingu Stadium with a 6-2 loss to the unsung Yakult Swallows, a team they had raided over the offseason by signing away their top starting pitcher and one of their biggest offensive threats.
Hiroyasu Tanaka and Yasushi Iihara each drove in a pair of runs and Yakult starter Masanori Ishikawa (1-0) held the Giants to two runs on six hits through 6 2/3 innings. Ishikawa struck out five and walked a pair. He also helped his own cause with a single and drove in a run on a groundball to second.
"This one is special because it's Opening Day and because it's against the Giants," said left-hander Ishikawa, who was 4-7 last season with a 4.38 ERA.
The Swallows made a winner of new skipper Shigeru Takada, who was making his debut at the club's helm after Atsuya Furuta stepped down in the offseason. The Swallows finished at the opposite end of the standings from the Giants in 2007, placing last with a 60-84 record.
"Our slogan this season is Dynamic and Dramatic Baseball," said Tanaka, who had three hits on the night. "I think we lived up to that tonight."
Giants slugger Alex Ramirez, who hit a good portion of his 211 home runs over seven seasons with the Swallows at Jingu, hit his first as a member of the visiting team Friday when he led off the second inning with a solo blast to left-center off Yakult starter Ishikawa.
The Swallows got that one back and more, however, when they touched Giants lefty Hisanori Takahashi for four runs in the bottom of the second.
Iihara, Ishikawa, Tanaka and Keizo Kawashima all drove in runs in an inning that also saw Aaron Guiel double to the wall and Takahashi walk a pair. In Takahashi's defense, Kawashima's two-out pop-up behind first should have been caught by infielder Lee Seung Yeop, but he had trouble picking it up in a light drizzle and it landed safely for an RBI single.
In the fourth, Kawashima had another seeing-eye single--this one dropping in shallow left-center field--and, after he stole second, Tanaka made it 5-1 when he stroked an RBI double to left.
Giants leadoff hitter Yoshinobu Takahashi singled in a run in the seventh off reliever Masato Hanada, but that's all Yomiuri would get.
Ryota Igarashi, a hard-throwing right-hander who was sidelined for the entire 2007 season, pitched the ninth for Yakult, nailing down the win by getting pinch-hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei to fly out to left field for the final out.
Takahashi (0-1) took the loss, giving up five runs on eight hits over four innings. Last year, Takahashi went 14-4 with a 2.75 ERA for the Giants.
Yakult out-hit the Giants 10-6 on the night. Giants cleanup hitter Lee was 0-for-4 Friday, with reliever Lim Chang Yong striking him out in the eighth in a battle between two top Korean players.
The Giants, who won 80 games last season to finish first in the CL, acquired a trio of high-priced free agents in the offseason, splashing out the dough to sign Ramirez, starter Seth Greisinger and closer Marc Kroon.
Ramirez and Greisinger, who will likely start Saturday for Yomiuri, both came over from the Swallows.
The series continues Saturday and Sunday at Jingu, both afternoon games.
In other CL games, the Hanshin Tigers defeated the Yokohama BayStars 4-2 at Kyocera Dome.
In the Pacific League, the Softbank Hawks edged the Seibu Lions 3-2 at Seibu Dome.
(IHT/Asahi: March 29,2008)