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Rob Smaal

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Chunichi 4, Yomiuri 3: Nori's big Dragons blast sends Giants reeling

by Rob Smaal (Apr 2, 2008)

Norihiro Nakamura belted a tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning Tuesday at Tokyo Dome as the Chunichi Dragons spoiled Yomiuri's home opener and extended the Giants' season-opening losing streak to four games.

The solo blast to left by veteran third baseman Nakamura came off Giants starter Koji Uehara and gave Hiromitsu Ochiai's Dragons a 4-3 win.

"I thought it would be good to swing at the first pitch because Uehara becomes tougher to hit the deeper the count goes," said Nakamura, who did just that. "I've now homered in two straight games so I feel pretty good about that. More importantly, though, is that the team won and we'll try to make it four in a row tomorrow (also against the Giants)."

Right-hander Kenichi Nakata, who was 14-8 last year, went eight innings, allowing three runs on seven hits while striking out nine to get the win. Closer Hitoki Iwase worked a scoreless ninth to get his second save of the season.

Uehara, who got his first start in over a year, took the loss. The veteran righty gave up nine hits--including a pair of home runs--and four runs in nine innings. He struck out seven and walked a pair.

After winning 102 games as a starter over his first eight seasons with the club, Uehara was cast in the closer's role last year, where he shined with 32 saves and an ERA of 1.74. Yomiuri signed Marc Kroon from the Yokohama BayStars to fill the closer's role, but he has yet to throw a pitch.

Chunichi outfielder Lee Byung Kyu also homered off Uehara, smacking a two-run shot to right in the sixth inning.

Things started off well for the Giants with Yoshinobu Takahashi leading the game off with a double. Michihiro Ogasawara drove him in with a single up the middle and Shinnosuke Abe later doubled in Ogasawara to make it 2-0.

Yomiuri shortstop Hayato Sakamoto led off the second with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Uehara. Takahashi then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Sakamoto and the Giants were up 3-0 after two innings.

Dragons slugger Tyrone Woods led off the second inning with a shot to deep left that came about two feet from clearing the fence. The ball was scooped up on the bounce by outfielder Alex Ramirez and when Woods ran through the stop sign at first he was easily thrown out at second on the play.

In the fourth Woods would make amends, driving in Masahiro Araki with an RBI single back up the middle with his second hit of the night off Uehara.

With the score tied 3-3 and a man on in the top of the eighth, Woods turned on a Uehara forkball and pulled it deep to left. Plenty of home-run distance, but just foul.

After Woods drew a walk to put two men on with two out, Kazuhiro Wada hit a hot grounder to third. Ogasawara snared the ball and prevented the potential go-ahead run from scoring by diving to tag third base just ahead of the speedy Hirokazu Ibata.

Dragons free-agent acquisition Wada got his first hit of the young season, a line single up the middle in the sixth.

(IHT/Asahi: April 2,2008)


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