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John E. Gibson

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Dragons outdistance BayStars

by John E. Gibson (Apr 14, 2011)

Masahiko Morino's three hits combined didn't travel as far for the Chunichi Dragons as Terrmel Sledge's three home runs for the Yokohama BayStars, but they had more impact.

Morino had an RBI single and scored a run in a three-run first inning, and his tiebreaking solo blast in the fourth put Chunichi in front for good in a 8-7 slugfest Wednesday before 10,626 at Yokohama Stadium.

The defending Central League-champion Dragons, who suffered a walk-off loss in Tuesday's opener, had to fight to the end to hold off the BayStars.

"Yesterday we had a tough loss, but we want to push forward and put a lot of wins together this season," said Morino, who said he wasn't sure his first longball of the season was out.

"I think the wind might have carried that one a little," said the 15th-year infielder, who is now three hits shy of 1,000 in his career.

Sledge, in his fourth season in Japan, turned in his first three-homer game. He cracked a pair of shots off Chunichi starter Kenichi Nakata (1-0) and an opposite-field shot off reliever Junichi Kawahara for a career-best seven-RBI game. But the BayStars couldn't get him to the plate in the ninth inning.

Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase ended the game with Sledge on deck and a runner on second.

"It feels good on my part, the individual effort and the home runs were good for the fans, but we come out here to play for the win," said Sledge, who played two years for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before coming to Yokohama last season.

The 34-year-old outfielder, who said he hadn't had a three-homer game since college, was looking forward to a showdown in the ninth against Iwase with the BayStars trying to win the first two games of the season for the first time in 11 years.

"It would have been a good battle," said Sledge, who became the first BayStars player to hit three homers in a game since Hitoshi Tamura did it in 2004.

Yokohama starter Tomokazu Oka was battling himself from the opening pitch, and the Dragons jumped on him for three runs in the first inning. Oka lasted just two innings but said he felt fine.

"My stuff wasn't all that bad, I just didn't have good control today," Oka said.

Yokohama manager Takao Obana had a different take on him.

"Oka's start was awful. Not only was his control off, his pitches didn't have any movement," the second-year skipper said.

After the first two Dragons reached in the first, Morino served a single to center to open the scoring. Tony Blanco's shot back up the middle kicked off Oka's left foot and into left field for a clutch two-run single and a 3-0 cushion.

The BayStars used a tapper and Sledge's first longball to cut Chunichi's lead to 3-2. Takehiro Ishikawa beat one into the ground and raced to first for an infield single before Sledge sent a misplaced fastball high into the seats in right.

The Dragons tacked on a pair of runs in the second inning on RBI singles by Hirokazu Ibata and Kazuhiro Wada, but another wayward fastball and some poor defense cost them the lead.

Ishikawa reached on a strikeout wild pitch before Blanco fielded a sharply hit grounder that took him toward the bag at first. The Dominican, however, failed to step on the base and his throw to second was off line.

Sledge then went deep for a second time. In the seventh, his two-out, two-run shot ended the scoring after Chunichi pinch-hitter Nobumasa Fukuda's homer provided a crucial insurance run in the top of the inning.

The Dragons had plenty of opportunities to add runs, but stranded 10 men and relied on yesterday's loser, Takuya Asao, and Iwase to protect the one-run lead over the final two innings.

"You could see all the players really hung in there and didn't give up," Obana said. "I hope we can keep playing like this."

In the afternoon's other game, Takeshi Yamasaki slugged a two-out, three-run home run to pad a one-run lead and the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles knocked off the reigning Japan Series champion Chiba Lotte Marines 5-1 to take the first two games of their series at QVC Marine Field.


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