The Yomiuri Giants have a lot of big names, but not many of them seem to be playing with the eye of the Tigers.
Third-year lefty Minoru Iwata held the Giants to a run over eight innings to win his second consecutive start as the red-hot Hanshin Tigers sent the slumping Giants to their seventh loss in eight games, a 3-1 decision in front of 44,470 on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome.
Iwata (2-0) got the better of another big-name Yomiuri hurler--this time Seth Greisinger--as the Tigers improved to 7-1 and put the defending Central League champion Giants on the verge of being swept for the second time in three series.
"Our starters are doing a better job than last year and it has been that way since camp," said Tigers skipper Akinobu Okada.
"We're off to a good start all the way around," said Okada, whose team has won its first three series for the first time since 2005, when it won the CL title.
Iwata surrendered four hits, walked one and hit a batter, while fanning five. His biggest jam came in the eighth inning when the Giants scored their only run.
"I was pretty nervous at the start," Iwata said. "But my plan going in was to pitch deep into the game, and I wanted to make sure I kept them from scoring the first run."
Kyuji Fujikawa came on in the ninth inning and fanned two en route to nailing down his fifth save.
When asked if he wanted to go out for the ninth inning, Iwata replied, "That's what Kyu's here for. I just hope I can contribute to us winning a championship."
Hanshin cleanup man Tomoaki Kanemoto looks in championship form. He moved two hits away from 2,000 for his career by socking home run No. 3, a deep shot to right with a man aboard in the sixth inning to pad Hanshin's lead.
"I didn't care where it went, as long as it went for a hit. It just happened to be a home run," said Kanemoto.
"[Keiichi] Hirano did a good job of getting on and moving into scoring position in that situation, and that's what the No. 4 batter is supposed to do, drive him in," Okada said of Kanemoto, who is also three homers shy of 400.
Meanwhile, not much is working for the sputtering Giants, who can't hold leads and have just as much trouble getting them.
They continue to sink after getting off to a franchise-worst five-game skid to open the season.
"We just have to be patient," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said about his so-far-underachieving lineup.
Between dodging questions about his lifeless offense, which was held to three runs or fewer for the seventh time, he offered a few words of praise to Greisinger.
"Three runs over six innings--I guess he did well as the starter."
Greisinger lost the strike zone facing Takashi Toritani in the fifth inning, walking the speedster on five pitches, and helped the Tigers take a 1-0 lead.
Lew Ford followed with a hit-and-run single to left, and Toritani challenged Alex Ramirez's arm, never hesitating as he steamed into third with no outs.
Toshihiro Noguchi lifted a twisting foul ball to right field, and Yoshinobu Takahashi snagged it near the wall but the relay throw home was too late to get Toritani.
"It doesn't matter how it gets done, it's the result that matters," Noguchi said. "[Iwata] was pitching well, so I wanted to get him some support."
Iwata didn't need much help, but he got a big play from Hirano leading off the fifth inning. Hirano dove to his right and stopped a Lee Seung Yeop ball headed to center and jumped to his feet and fired to first to for the out.
The Giants put two runners on later in the inning, but Iwata got Greisinger on a tapper back to the mound to end the threat.
Reporters asked Hara if he thought about pinch-hitting for Greisinger, but the skipper said, "If you make a change that early, it just destroys you the rest of the way."
The Giants scored their run in the eighth inning, thanks to forgotten man Yoshitomo Tani.
The benched outfielder opened the frame with a pinch-hit single to center, and came around to score on Noriyoshi Omichi's groundout to make it 3-1 Tigers.
But with the tying run at the plate, Iwata got Takahashi to pop up and Yoshiyuki Kamei to ground out to limit the damage.