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Rob Smaal

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Day of drama in Yokohama

by Rob Smaal (Jul 18, 2010)

It hasn't taken Brett Harper long to make an impact in Japanese baseball.

And, on Sunday afternoon at Yokohama Stadium, it was the Yomiuri Giants who felt the brunt of that impact.

With his BayStars down 7-4 in the bottom of the ninth and the bases loaded, Harper connected for a walkoff grand slam off Giants closer Marc Kroon to give the Yokohamans a come-from-behind 8-7 win over the Central League leaders.

Harper, who was 4-for-5 on the day, blasted a first-pitch slider off Kroon deep into the stands in right.

"I've hit walkoff home runs before," said Harper, "but never on a stage this big.

"It was a great win. Our fans were going nuts and we battled right to the end and got a win. It was in my zone, I got a good swing on it, and I knew it was gone."

Harper, a 28-year-old American first baseman, signed with Yokohama in late June. In 11 games and 39 at-bats with the BayStars, he is hitting .487 with five home runs and 13 RBIs. Not bad for a guy who has played plenty of Triple-A baseball, but never made it to the major leagues.

"I'm just seeing the ball well," added the understated Harper, the son of former MLB catcher Brian Harper.

After the Giants had erupted for a seven-run sixth inning to overturn a 3-0 deficit, Stars slugger Termmel Sledge hit a solo homer in the eighth to get one run back.

With a 7-4 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara called on closer Kroon to finish it off against the club he spent the first three years of his NPB career with. But Kroon, who has 16 saves this season and 168 in his six-year career here, gave up a leadoff single to veteran catcher Tasuku Hashimoto and walked the BayStars No. 1 and 2 hitters to load the bases. That brought up Harper, who further endeared himself to the BayStars' faithful with one mighty swing of the bat.

When asked to comment on Kroon, who holds the NPB speed record after hitting 162 kph (101.25 mph) on the radar gun, Harper said it was tough for him to make an accurate assessment.

"I only saw one pitch," he said.

Earlier, Yokohama starter Tomokazu Ohka, a former major-leaguer, was rolling along nicely, manhandling the Giants like few pitchers have. With the last-place BayStars nursing a 3-0 lead, veteran right-hander Ohka was perfect through five frames, retiring the first 15 batters he faced in order.

But things unraveled quickly in the sixth for Ohka. Ryota Wakiya slapped a single back up the middle to open the inning and Edgar Gonzalez followed that up with a double that short-hopped the wall in left. Pinch-hitter Yoshinobu Takahashi delivered a sacrifice fly to left to get Yomiuri on the scoresheet and, after leadoff-hitter Hayato Sakamoto had singled off Ohka, Tetsuya Matsumoto blooped an RBI single to left to make it a 3-2 game.

Yokohama skipper Takao Obana, a former Giants pitching coach, then brought in veteran lefty Takayuki Shinohara, who got the dangerous Michihiro Ogasawara to ground out. But Hitoshi Fujie came in from the bullpen and Alex Ramirez immediately touched him for a two-run single to center to give Yomiuri a 4-3 lead. The hot-hitting Shinnosuke Abe then drilled a two-run homer to right off Fujie, the 30th of the year for the Giants catcher, and rookie Hisayoshi Chono knocked a solo shot over the fence in center to put the Giants up 7-3.

Yuji Hata (1-0) ended up getting the win with one inning of scoreless relief for Yokohama. Ohka, who compiled a 51-67 record over 10 years with five MLB clubs, went 5 1/3 innings Sunday. He gave up four runs on four hits.

Kroon (2-2) took the loss. Giants starter Wirfin Obispo allowed three runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings.

In other news, Giants right-hander Seth Greisinger threw four innings in a minor-league game Saturday in his first rehab start since having offseason elbow surgery.

Greisinger, a two-time CL wins leader, threw 57 pitches and was pain-free after the outing. His fastball was clocked at 143 kph.

Greisinger is next expected to throw a simulated game over the All-Star break.


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