In a perfect world, this would have been a scintillating pitchers' duel between razor-sharp rookies.
Swallows teenager Yoshinori Sato's Central League debut against the Yokohama BayStars' Futoshi Kobayashi instead turned into a soggy, bar fight. Sato, the first choice of five teams in last autumn's high school draft, surrendered six runs in 1-2/3 innings before Tokyo Yakult beat the BayStars 9-8 at rainy Yokohama Stadium.
"I lost my rhythm before I even got to the mound. I couldn't overcome my nerves, and that shows the level of my ability," said Sato, whose game plan fell apart early.
"I was impatient, wanting to go straight after the batters even on pitches that weren't meant for that. As a result, I wasn't decisive and threw fat pitches."
The BayStars batters hammered away at the fireballer's sliders until Sato left the mound having struck out two, surrendered six hits and squandered a three-run, first-inning lead.
When asked if the youngster would take another turn in the starting rotation, skipper Shigeru Takada wouldn't say.
"I am going to use him, however," Takada said. "He has pitches of quality and we have important games to come. This is going to be an important time for him."
After starting with the youngest player in the organization, Takeda gave the ball to the oldest: right-hander Masao Kida.
Kida (1-0), two weeks shy of 40, allowed two runs and struck out three in 2-1/3 innings as the offense rebounded with three-straight, two-run innings.
The Swallows went ahead for good in the top of the fifth on Masakazu Fukukawa's two-run homer, and Norichika Aoki preserved the lead in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs and the go-ahead run on second, the Swallows center fielder was primed for a play at the plate. Ryoji Aikawa, whose two-run homer off Kida had made it an 8-5 game, unloaded on a pitch from Takehiko Oshimoto.
Afterburners lit, Aoki jetted toward the wall, and the drive that left Aikawa's bat as a two-run double was hauled in for the final out of a scoreless inning.
At the plate, Aoki and Kazuhiro Hatakeyama, who had three RBIs, propelled the Swallows with three hits apiece. Aoki drove in a run and scored three times. In the first inning, Aoki came home from third on the delayed portion of a double steal that the lead-footed Hatakeyama initiated before halting short of second base.
When asked about his hitting, Hatakeyama said: "You should be asking about my great base stealing."
More daring on the bases kept the Swallows close in the fourth.
With two outs, Kazuki Fukuchi scored from second on Aoki's third single. Fukuchi hesitated before running through third base coach Toshifumi Baba's stop sign but was still safe at home.
Left fielder Takahiro Saeki's high arcing throw home slowed to a crawl on its first bounce. Fukuchi was 4 meters from safety when the ball caught up with him--but the speedster literally beat the throw home. Aoki then stole second and scored his third run on Hatakeyama's third hit of the game.