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Rob Smaal

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That Giants kid can really swing the bat

by Rob Smaal (Apr 7, 2008)

Your first career home run is always going to be one you'll never forget, but when it's also a grand slam the memory will be that much sweeter.

Nineteen-year-old shortstop Hayato Sakamoto hit a bases-loaded home run in a six-run fifth inning and veteran Yoshinobu Takahashi clubbed his 250th and 251st career homers as the Yomiuri Giants trounced the Hanshin Tigers 9-1 Sunday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.

Right-hander Hiroshi Kisanuki (1-0) had a solid outing on the hill for Yomiuri, pitching eight innings of six-hit, one-run baseball, but this day belonged to Sakamoto, who also singled and was 2-for-4 on the day.

"Hitting a grand slam is the best feeling," said Sakamoto, whose home run was the first of his pro career. "I was just hoping to drive in a run but I got lucky and drove in four."

Sakamoto was pressed into service when regular shortstop Tomohiro Nioka suffered a leg injury in the Giants' season-opening series against Yakult.

The other hitting star for the Giants on Sunday was Takahashi. He smacked a two-run job in the third off Tigers starter Shinobu Fukuhara and added a solo shot in the eighth, his fourth of the young season, off reliever Kazuya Tsutsui.

"I got some good pitches to hit today," said Takahashi. "I've reached 250 homers but I still hope to hit a lot more."

Alex Ramirez had three hits for Yomiuri, including an RBI single in the fifth inning, and Shinnosuke Abe was 2-for-4, also driving in a run in the fifth on a bases-loaded check-swing single back up the middle.

Fukuhara (1-1) took the loss, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in four-plus innings of work. He left with the bases loaded in the fifth and reliever Kenta Abe came in and gave up the grand slam to Sakamoto, who golfed a low fastball just over the wall in left-center field.

Kisanuki, who was 12-9 last season with a 3.09 ERA, struck out five and walked one in a 110-pitch effort.

"My parents came to the game today and I really wanted to have a good outing in my first appearance of the season," Kisanuki said.

Daisuke Ochi worked the ninth for Yomiuri, giving up a double to Takahiro Arai before striking out Tomoaki Kanemoto and pinch-hitter Atsushi Fujimoto to end it.

Earlier, Tigers veteran outfielder Kanemoto moved one hit away from joining the 2,000 club. Kanemoto, a 17-year veteran who recently turned 40, got his 1,999th hit in Japanese baseball when he hit an opposite-field flare single to left-center in the first inning.

Thirty-six men have reached the 2,000-hit milestone in NPB, the most recent being Hiroshima Carp veteran Tomonori Maeda last year.

Pinch-hitter Ikuro Katsuragi drove in the only Hanshin run with an RBI double in the eighth and Lew Ford was 2-for-3 for the Tigers with a double.

The underachieving Giants improved to 2-7 with the win while the Central League-leading Tigers saw their record fall to 7-2.

The teams are off today. The Giants are in Yokohama for a three-game set beginning Tuesday while the Tigers play host to Chunichi.

(IHT/Asahi: April 7,2008)


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