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Rob Smaal

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Giants take CL opener

by Rob Smaal and Kim Han Il (Mar 27, 2010)

Lefty Tetsuya Utsumi and batterymate Shinnosuke Abe made sure the reigning Japan Series champion Yomiuri Giants got their title defense off on the right foot Friday night at Tokyo Dome.

Utsumi did not allow an earned run through eight innings and Abe, the team's catcher and captain, bounced a two-run single back up the middle as the Giants scored a workmanlike 4-1 win over the crosstown Yakult Swallows as the Central League opened play Friday night.

Utsumi (1-0) struck out 10 and allowed just one unearned run over eight innings. He gave up four hits and issued a pair of walks. Closer Marc Kroon worked the ninth to pick up his first save of 2010. Kroon allowed a single to Aaron Guiel but struck out Norichika Aoki and Shinya Miyamoto to end it.

"I was a little nervous since it was Opening Day but I just followed Abe's lead all the way," said Utsumi, who was 9-11 last year.

Veterans Yoshinobu Takahashi and Alex Ramirez also drove in a run apiece for Yomiuri. The Giants got all their runs off Swallows starter Masanori Ishikawa (0-1), who gave up 10 hits and five walks through six innings.

Takahashi, who turns 35 next week, lined a one-out RBI single to right in the bottom of the fourth to tie it after the Swallows had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning on a throwing error by shortstop Hayato Sakamoto as he tried to turn a double play.

Takahashi, once one of the most feared sluggers in the league, had seen his career derailed by injuries over the past two seasons. In 2009, he played just one game with the big club due to a bad back but he ended up being one of the Giants' hottest hitters this spring.

The Giants held a brief pregame ceremony to honor their 2009 championship team and introduce their players. The introduction of Takahashi was greeted by some of the loudest cheers at Tokyo Dome as Giants fans let the injury-plagued converted outfielder know they were stoked to have him back in the lineup.

Two-time CL MVP Ramirez singled in a run in the sixth to make it 4-1.

Giants center fielder Tetsuya Matsumoto had three hits, a stolen base and scored two runs on the night.

Speedskater Keiichiro Nagashima showed good form in throwing out the ceremonial opening pitch. Nagashima took the silver medal in the men's 500-meter race at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

* * *

At Kyocera Dome, Kenji Jojima hit a pair of two-run doubles as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Yokohama BayStars 7-3.

Trailing 3-1, Jojima tied the game with his fourth-inning double and hit another double in seventh to make it 7-3. The 33-year-old catcher went 3-for-4 in his first game back in Japan after playing for four years with the Seattle Mariners.

Tigers starter Yuya Ando earned his first win after tossing five innings.

At Nagoya Dome, the Hiroshima Carp defeated the Chunichi Dragons 3-1.


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