Atsushi Fujii continued his hot start to the season and he made sure the undefeated Chunichi Dragons did the same on Tuesday night at Jingu Stadium.
Fujii hit a two-run homer and drove in the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning, giving the Dragons a 4-3 win over Yakult and spoiling the Swallows' home opener.
The Dragons, who swept the Yokohama BayStars in three straight to open the season, must be thrilled with what they have seen from Fujii, a 27-year-old outfielder in his fourth year with the club. Fujii has three home runs already this year, which is all the more surprising when you factor in that he had two in 40 games last season and just three in his entire career coming into this year.
His heroics with the bat made a winner of reliever Akifumi Takahashi (1-0), who worked two-thirds of a scoreless inning.
Hitoki Iwase picked up the save, getting Jamie D'Antona to hit into a game-ending double play to end it. Starter Kenta Asakura went 6 1/3 innings for Hiromitsu Ochiai's club, allowing three runs on nine hits.
Reliever Takehiko Oshimoto took the loss for the Swallows, working the fateful ninth after starter Shohei Tateyama had held the Dragons to three runs on four hits through eight innings.
Like the Tigers-Carp tilt on Tuesday night at Koshien Stadium, this one went right down to the wire.
The Swallows opened the scoring in the home half of the second when new addition D'Antona pulled a double down the third-base line. He moved to third on a groundout by Aaron Guiel then trotted home when veteran Shinya Miyamoto punched an RBI single through the left side.
Their second run in the fourth followed a familiar formula. Once again, D'Antona led off with a double past third base, only this time Guiel followed with a line single to right field to advance the runner and Miyamoto cashed him in with another single to right.
An inning later, the Dragons would square it up when Fujii cranked a two-run homer to right off Swallows starter Tateyama.
In the bottom of the fifth, Guiel flared an RBI single to left to score Norichika Aoki, who had singled earlier in the inning and advanced on a D'Antona single. But, again, Chunichi answered right back in the top of the sixth when Tony Blanco's single up the middle brought home Hirokazu Ibata, who had singled, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error charged to Yakult catcher Ryoji Aikawa.
The Swallows blew a golden opportunity to go ahead in the bottom of the sixth when Hiroyasu Tanaka drew a walk from Asakura and went first-to-third on a wild pitch that got past Kohei Oda, who had come in to catch for Tanishige. But Asakura retired the next three batters on two groundouts and a pop fly.
They got a runner to third the following frame as well. Reliever Nelson Payano hit Aoki in the right shoulder with his first pitch of the game and D'Antona singled to the gap in left-center to leave runners at the corners. But Payano struck out Guiel on a high heater and another reliever, Akinobu Shimizu, got Miyamoto looking at a called third strike.
Kazuhiro Wada led off the top of the ninth with a single and later scored the game-winner when Fujii sliced a bloop single into left. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.
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Elsewhere in the CL, Tomoaki Kanemoto hit a game-ending double in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Hanshin Tigers rallied to defeat the Hiroshima Carp 11-10 at Koshien Stadium.
Trailing 10-9, the slugger smashed the come-from-behind double to right off Carp reliever Katsuhiro Nagakawa.
In the Pacific League, the Nippon-Ham Fighters crushed the Lotte Marines 9-1 at Tokyo Dome, and the defending Japan Series champion Seibu Lions defeated the Orix Buffaloes 8-3 at Seibu Dome. At Kleenex Stadium, the high-flying Rakuten Eagles extended their unbeaten streak to four after clubbing the Softbank Hawks 6-0.