Veteran Masaaki Koike came off the bench Thursday night to lift the Chunichi Dragons to a 5-2 win over the Yakult Swallows in a Central League matchup at Jingu Stadium.
Koike slammed a tiebreaking two-run homer in the sixth inning to make a winner of Dominican right-hander Edward Valdez (1-0), giving him his first victory in Japan.
Valdez got off to a shaky start before settling down, eventually allowing two runs on six hits over five innings. Dragons skipper Hiromitsu Ochiai then rode his bullpen the rest of the way, using six relievers to keep the Swallows off the scoreboard over the final four frames. Closer Hitoki Iwase worked the ninth to pick up the save.
Yakult lefty Masanori Ishikawa (0-2) took the loss. He gave up five runs on 12 hits through seven innings. The Dragons out-hit Yakult 14-8 on the night.
Swallows leadoff hitter Kazuki Fukuchi yanked Valdez's second pitch of the game into the right-field bleachers for a solo home run and two batters later Norichika Aoki walloped a high fastball into the same seats for a quick 2-0 lead for the home team.
Valdez kept the Swallows off the board for the four innings after that.
In the top of the fourth, the Dragons knotted the score when Dionys Cesar and Masahiko Morino led off the inning with back-to-back doubles off Ishikawa to get one run across and Keiji Oyama hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center to tie it 2-2.
The inning featured the second wind-aided bloop single of the night by Chunichi rookie Yusuke Matsui, both balls falling between second baseman Hiroyasu Tanaka and center fielder Aoki.
Oyama led off the top of the sixth by legging out an infield single. The first-base umpire ruled that Yakult first-baseman Jamie D'Antona had pulled his foot off the bag, a call the burly infielder strongly protested. It would be costly as well when Koike hammered a pinch-hit home run to left-center to give Chunichi a 4-2 lead.
An inning later, Tony Blanco, who led the Central League in home runs last year with 39, whacked a solo shot over the fence in straightaway center to make it a 5-2 game. It was Blanco's second longball this season.
The Swallows are scheduled to play host to the Yokohama BayStars for three in a row at Jingu beginning Friday, while the Dragons head home to face the Hanshin Tigers at Nagoya Dome.
Elsewhere in the CL, Alex Ramirez smacked a second-inning grand slam and Tetsuya Utsumi tossed eight solid innings as the Yomiuri Giants clobbered the Yokohama BayStars 12-2 at Yokohama Stadium.
Rami, the 2009 CL batting champion, drove in an RBI on an infield grounder in his first at-bat and followed an inning later with his first home run this season off BayStars starter Stephen Randolph (0-2), who had loaded the bases for Ramirez with a single and two walks.
The relentless Giants added five runs, including rookie Hisayoshi Chono's two-run double, in the eighth.
Yomiuri leadoff man Hayato Sakamoto went 5-for-5, hitting three singles, a double and a triple.
Southpaw Utsumi allowed two runs on nine hits and a walk in 119 pitches to earn his second win.
The game between the Hiroshima Carp and Hanshin Tigers at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium was rained out.
In the Pacific League, the Softbank Hawks pounded the Lions 11-5 at Seibu Dome. At Chiba Marine Stadium, the Marines edged the Rakuten Eagles 3-2.