Hayato Sakamoto's seventh-inning grand slam Thursday night put the brakes on the streaking Hanshin Tigers.
Sakamoto went deep off Tigers reliever Randy Messenger with the sacks full to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead as the Yomiuri Giants avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of their Central League rivals with a 5-2 victory.
Hanshin leadoff-hitter Matt Murton took Giants starter Tetsuya Utsumi over the wall for a solo shot in the top of the first, but after that the game turned into a pitching duel between a couple of crafty left-handers.
Utsumi got past that initial jolt and went on to improve his record to 4-0 on the season. He went seven innings, allowing just that one run on six hits. He walked one and whiffed seven.
"It's a great feeling to start out 4-0," said Utsumi, who teared up as he dedicated the win to ex-teammate and coach Takuya Kimura, who died last week after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Thursday would have been Kimura's 38th birthday.
In the other dugout, Casey Fossum was making his debut in Japan for the Tigers and he gave manager Akinobu Mayumi six very solid innings. Fossum kept the Giants off the board through six, allowing just three hits while striking out five and walking three.
Fossum, a 32-year-old left-hander originally signed by the Red Sox in 1999, split the 2009 season between the Mets, Yankees and Cubs organizations. He left Thursday's game with a 1-0 lead and was in line for his first NPB win until Yomiuri finally did some damage in the seventh.
Messenger, the third Hanshin pitcher of the inning, entered the seventh with one out and two men on. He got pinch-hitter Yoshinobu Takahashi to ground out, but then walked Ryota Wakiya to load the bases for Giants leadoff-hitter Sakamoto. Sakamoto's slam barely cleared the fence in left, landing in the first row of disappointed Hanshin fans.
"I knew I hit it pretty well, but I wasn't sure it would go out," said Sakamoto, whose home run was his fourth of the year and his third hit of the night. "Even if it didn't (clear the fence) I figured at least it would put us ahead ... It was special that we could win on Kimura's birthday. We miss him."
The teams traded runs in the eighth, with Takashi Toritani scoring on a Takahiro Arai groundout to short in the top half and Yomiuri cleanup-hitter Alex Ramirez crushing his seventh home run of the season, a solo shot off Tatsuya Kojima, in the bottom of the frame.
Daisuke Ochi worked the ninth for the Giants to secure his second save of the season. He struck out the first two batters he faced and got pinch-hitter Ikuro Katsuragi to loft a routine fly ball to left-center that should have ended the game, but outfielders Hisayoshi Chono and Tetsuya Matsumoto collided on the play and the ball was dropped with Katsuragi standing on second. No harm done, however, as Ochi got Murton to ground out to shortstop to end it.
Kazuya Tsutsui (0-2), Hanshin's second reliever in the seventh, took the loss. He was on the hook for one of the runs on Sakamoto's homer.
The CL-leading Giants improved to 11-7 on the year, while Hanshin, which had won its previous four contests, is now 9-8.
Elsewhere in the CL, the Chunichi Dragons defeated the Yokohama BayStars 7-4 at Nagoya Dome. At Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium, the Yakult Swallows edged the Hiroshima Carp 2-1.
In the Pacific League, the Lions beat the Rakuten Eagles 7-3 at Seibu Dome. At Kyocera Dome, the Softbank Hawks downed the Orix Buffaloes 5-1. The Lotte Marines spanked the Nippon-Ham Fighters 6-3 at Sapporo Dome.