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Rob Smaal

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Back-to-back-to-back jacks

by Rob Smaal (Apr 4, 2008)

Now this is what Yomiuri brass had in mind when they shelled out nearly 2 billion yen in free-agent contracts over the winter.

After starting off the 2008 season with a franchise record-worst five straight losses, the Giants broke out the big sticks Thursday at Tokyo Dome, getting three straight round-trippers in a five-run seventh inning to clip the Chunichi Dragons 6-5.

With the Giants down 5-1 and staring an 0-6 record in the face, Yoshinobu Takahashi started off the homer barrage with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Takahashi smacked an opposite-field home run to left with two men aboard off Dragons ace Kenshin Kawakami.

While the victory-starved Giants fans were still celebrating that feat, Toshiyuki Kamei sent them into raptures all over again with a solo shot to right to tie it and Michihiro Ogasawara then delivered the go-head run with a homer to right, his second of the night off Kawakami.

That was the end of Kawakami's night. The Dragons' righty ended up going 6 2/3 innings, allowing 10 hits--including four HRs--and six runs. He struck out eight and didn't walk a batter.

"We've had a tough week," Takahashi said. "It feels great to get that first win and get all that pressure off our backs."

Reliever Kentaro Nishimura got the win for Yomiuri, tossing two hitless innings while striking out three batters.

Closer Marc Kroon got his first save in a Giants' uniform, working a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Hirokazu Ibata to end it. On Wednesday, Kroon, who holds the NPB speed record of 161 kph, hit 159 on the radar gun to set a Yomiuri club record.

Chunichi's free-agent acquisition Kazuhiro Wada slammed a three-run homer off Giants starter Norihito Kaneto in the fifth inning to make it 5-1 and things looked bleak for the defending CL champions at that point, with Kawakami cruising along.

Earlier, the Dragons opened the scoring in the second inning when a sacrifice fly to center by Masahiko Morino scored Wada, who had led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a Norihiro Nakamura single.

The following inning Chunichi doubled its lead when Lee Byung Kyu lined a double to left-center to score the fleet-footed Masahiro Araki from second.

The Giants got one back when Ogasawara deposited Kawakami's first pitch of the fourth inning into the second deck in right field with a towering home run to make it 2-1.

"Our fans cheered for us even when we were down by four runs tonight," said Ogasawara. "I just knew we couldn't let them down."

Giants manager Tatsunori Hara made a couple of changes to his lineup card Thursday, starting left-handed hitting Ryota Wakiya at second in place of switch-hitter Takuya Kimura and inserting another left-handed hitter, Kamei, in center field in place of Yoshitomo Tani, who bats right-handed.

Wakiya made some nice defensive plays but he also struck out three times.

The Giants lost three straight at Jingu Stadium to the Yakult Swallows to open the season before dropping the first two at home to the Dragons. Chunichi swept the Giants three straight in the 2007 Central League playoffs before going on to win their first NPB title in 53 years.

The Giants play host to the Hanshin Tigers today and through the weekend while the Dragons play a three-game set against the Swallows at Nagoya Dome.

Elswhere, the Yakult Swallows defeated the Yokohama BayStars 6-3 at Yokohama Stadium and the Hiroshima Carp beat the visiting Hanshin Tigers 4-2.

(IHT/Asahi: April 4,2008)


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