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John E. Gibson

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Giants drop opener

by John E. Gibson (Mar 29, 2008)

The Yomiuri Giants don't appear to have a lot of holes in their batting. Their defense, however, might have enough cracks to sink the ship.

Neither worked very well on Opening Day at Jingu Stadium on Friday, but it was Yomiuri's shoddy play in the field that really cost the defending Central League champions as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows scraped their way to a 6-2 win.

Seventh-year southpaw Masanori Ishikawa, making his third Opening Day start--and first in two years--was steady over 6-2/3 innings and Hiroyasu Tanaka had three hits and two RBIs in the victory.

Yakult, which last season finished in the CL cellar for the first time in 21 years, knocked Yomiuri pitching around for 10 hits and rode a four-run second inning--in a persistent rain--to win for the eighth time in their past 11 season openers.

"I was as pumped up as I've ever been," said Ishikawa, who is 3-0 in Opening Day starts.

"I wanted to win especially because it was the Giants."

He said the key wasn't any pitch in particular, but his level of concentration.

"I was able to really focus right from the start," Ishikawa said. "I wasn't going to pitch like I was scared, and I think I showed that the whole time I was out there."

Masato Hanada came on to bail Ishikawa out of jam with two on in the seventh before offseason addition Lim Chang Yong, known as the Shingo Takatsu of South Korea, made his debut in the eighth inning. The right-hander set down the side in order, and Ryota Igarashi worked a scoreless ninth to finish off the Giants.

Igarashi, who was the Swallows closer in 2004, was pitching in his first CL game since 2006.

It turned out to be a surprise start to a season of high expectations for Yomiuri, which didn't look great.

"We hung in there and battled at the plate," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said. "We'll do better tomorrow.

"[In the second inning] the rain was coming down pretty good at that point in the game," he said of his team's defensive troubles.

Giants lefty Hisanori Takahashi (0-1) got the nod for his first Opening Day start, and allowed five earned runs on eight hits and two walks. He failed to record a strikeout.

"He really wasn't able to find a good pace out there," Hara said.

The Giants flexed their muscles in the second inning. Former Swallow Alex Ramirez marked his first trip to the plate as a Giant by spanking a 3-2 fastball to dead center field. It was the third straight season that Ramirez had homered on Opening Day.

But the Giants looked vulnerable in the field, bumbling their way through the second inning and helping the Swallows score four runs.

Adam Riggs walked to leadoff the inning and Aaron Guiel doubled down the line in right.

Yasushi Ihara followed by hitting a floater near the line in the shallow right, and Lee Seung Yeop lost it in the rain. The ball fell in for a game-tying double.

A walk and an out later, Ishikawa's roller to second to push over the go-ahead run.

Keizo Kawashima hit a ball up the middle that Giants 19-year-old second baseman Hayato Sakamoto grabbed, but he slipped on the new infield turf while fielding and couldn't make a throw.

"It doesn't matter how I got it, they scored it a hit and it's a big thrill," said Kawashima, who joined Yakult in a January trade from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Tanaka followed with a sharp single to cap the second-inning outburst and make it 4-1 Yakult. With two outs in the fourth, Tanaka doubled to make it 5-1 Swallows.

Ihara's second hit, a two-out single in the fifth, gave Yakult a 6-1 cushion.

Sakamoto, the first teenager to crack the Giants starting lineup on Opening Day since Hideki Matsui in 1994, went 0-for-3 with a walk.

In other Central League games:

Tigers 4, BayStars 2: Tomoaki Kanemoto, who had offseason surgery and was a late arrival at camp, tied the game with a fourth-inning RBI double as Hanshin beat Yokohama at Kyocera Dome Osaka.

Tigers starter Yuya Ando spotted the visitors a two-run lead, but BayStars right-hander Hayato Terahara walked a pair of batters in the fourth to bring Kanemoto up with one out and two on.

Kanemoto then scored the go-ahead run on a single by Makoto Imaoka.

Carp 2, Dragons 2, 12 innings: Chunichi's Norihiro Nakamura tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out RBI double. Tyrone Woods was thrown out trying to score from first on the play and the Dragons had to settle for a 12-inning tie with the Carp at Nagoya Dome.


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