Two weeks off to cool his heels proved to be Dicky Gonzalez's undoing on Wednesday.
After going 15-2 in the regular season, the Yomiuri Giants right-hander lost the plot in the first inning en route to his worst outing of the year as the Chunichi Dragons thumped the Giants 7-2 in the first game of the Central League Climax Series second stage at Tokyo Dome.
Rookie Kei Nomoto capped a five-run first inning with a three-run homer to even the best-of-six series at one game apiece--the Giants received a one-win advantage as league champions.
"I tried to put my difficulties behind me and start fresh," said Nomoto, who batted .251 with two homers in 175 at-bats. "But I managed to relax and not force it."
Gonzalez settled down after the first but by then it was too late.
"You go for seven months, and then you're off for two weeks," he said. "I didn't know what to think, what to throw."
Takashi Ogasawara, 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA in the regular season, made his first start against Yomiuri this year a good one, allowing a run in five innings on three hits and two walks.
"I threw a lot of screwballs, because [catcher Motonobu] Tanishige kept putting down the sign for them," said Ogaswara, who last beat the Giants as a starter in Game 1 of the 2007 CLCS second stage.
Gonzalez had not allowed four runs in a game since Sept. 22, 2008, when he was pitching with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He allowed five runs on seven hits, while striking out two and walking none. The loss was also his first at Tokyo Dome since he joined the Giants.
The Dragons started their attack in orthodox fashion with a hit and a sacrifice, but three straight singles made it 2-0 with two on and one out for Nomoto, who blasted a 1-1 fastball inside.
"It felt really good," Nomoto said. "It was great to jump ahead in the first. My only thought was that if I fall behind in the count it would be really tough."
With a five-run lead before throwing a single pitch, Ogasawara shut the Giants down 1-2-3 in the first, but gave up a run in the second after issuing a leadoff walk to Alex Ramirez.
A two-out walk and Shigeyuki Furuki's flair to left put the Giants on the board, but CL home run champ Tony Blanco restored the five-run cushion in the third with a solo homer into the left-field stands.
"Dicky's my friend and it's always hard facing your friend, but its part of the game. Sometimes I get him, sometimes he gets me," said Blanco, who was 3-for-15 against Gonzalez with all three hits for extra bases.
After the early outbursts, however, there were several chances but few scores.
Gonzalez left for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth, but his replacement in the sixth wasn't on the mound long enough to break a sweat.
Micheal Nakamura's third pitch hit Blanco in the helmet. Blanco turned toward the mound as Nakamura doffed his cap before receiving his automatic ejection for a dangerous pitch.
Takahiko Nomaguchi came on but was unable to keep the run from scoring.
With two outs, Atsushi Fujii and Tanishige each singled to bring Nomoto home.
Dragons right-hander Daisuke Yamai took the mound in the sixth and overcame a bloop leadoff single. Cleanup man Ramirez fouled out and Yoshiyuki Kamei grounded into a double play.
In the seventh, a leadoff walk and a one-out double off Yamai by Furuki brought Lee Seung Yeop up to a thunderous ovation. Lee, who hadn't batted for the first team since Aug. 1, delivered a high fly to left field off southpaw Masato Kobayashi that was good for a sacrifice fly.
Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai used six pitchers to stop the Giants--making three consecutive changes in one stretch--as Chunichi improved to 5-2-1 in eight Climax Series games over the past three seasons.
The skipper said quality of play was less important than wins.
"I don't even want to talk about how we played. Winning and losing is all that matters," Ochiai said.
"Who did well is not important. If each player doesn't perform in his role, we won't win."
With the series tied, Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara just wanted his guys to come back sharp in Game 2.
"Obviously we weren't able to put a rally together and if you can't do that you can't really score," Hara said.