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Giant uprising / Yomiuri avoids no-hitter by young Yakult hurler, rallies for 5 runs in 9th to win

by Jim Allen (May 4, 2008)

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows came dressed for history, and young lefty Kyohei Muranaka came within two outs of making it.

Wearing a throwback uniform from the 1970-73 Yakult Atoms, Muranaka threw 8-1/3 hitless innings Jingu Stadium, only to witness the struggling Yomiuri Giants turn the game into a 5-0 late- inning laugher.

Yoshiyuki Kamei's one-out, ninth-inning double opened the door, and Noriyoshi Omichi cracked the game open with a two-out, two-run double.

Muranaka (2-3), who had not completed a game in 23 starts since turning pro, saw his career game crumble in terrifying fashion.

Kamei broke up the 20-year-old's no-hit bid in a 14-pitch battle. After a two-out intentional walk, Omichi decided it.

"I wasn't thinking about a no-hitter at all," said Muranaka. "I was pitching so as not to allow a run."

Muranaka's 137th pitch was a 1-0 fastball away and Omichi went with it, driving it against the wall in right-center.

"Kamei got the first hit. That helped me relax at the plate," said Omichi.

Swallows skipper Shigeru Takada had hoped his youngster, who had outlasted tough Giants lefty Tetsuya Utsumi, could get him to extra innings, but the chance never came.

"His pitch count was looking good in the middle innings but it started going up again toward the end," Takada said. "After nine he was going to be gone.

"Utsumi was tough but we had our chances. You have to score in at least one of those opportunities."

Right-hander Ryota Igarashi entered after Omichi's double and the former rocket boy exploded on the launch pad. An infield single brought Shinnosuke Abe to the plate with two on, and the Giants captain blasted a three-run homer to cap the scoring.

Abe's second homer of the season was also the 150th of his career. "Just from my perspective as an old guy, it was great," said the 38-year-old Omichi. "That Abe homered, too, well that was big for us."

Muranaka had allowed just three walks through the first eight innings, with no Giant touching second until Kamei.

With his club facing serious humiliation, the 25-year-old Kamei fell behind 1-2 but fouled off eight pitches, running the count full. Kamei smoked Muranaka's 129th pitch, a fastball down the pipe, off the right-field wall.

Although the Giants have struggled offensively, Kamei has been one of the few bright spots in the batting order.

"Kamei's the guy who has been hitting for us, other than that...," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

Muranaka retired the next batter on an infield pop, but walked cleanup hitter Michihiro Ogasawara intentionally before the roof caved in with amazing speed.

The lefty allowed three runs on two hits in 8-2/3 innings. "It was spectacular pitching by Muranaka," Takada said.

Giants starter Utsumi allowed just four hits over seven shutout innings but at least his club came out on top. The lefty, who didn't allow a hit until the fourth, denied the Swallows scoring opportunities in the fifth and seventh.

Lefty reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi (1-0) survived a brush with trouble in the eighth inning to get the win.

Muranaka was the Swallows' first pick in the 2005 high school draft out of Yamanashi's Tokai University Kofu High School.

Since none of the franchise's eight no-hitters came between 1970 and '73, Muranaka could have become the only pitcher in a Yakult Atoms uniform to ever throw one.

Yakult's last no-no was by Rick Guttormson's on May 26, 2006. That was just the second ever thrown by a pro at Jingu. The first was in a Japan League game on Aug. 24, 1948, by the Hanshin Tigers' Tadayoshi Kajioka--against the Nankai Hawks.


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