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John E. Gibson

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Kinjo, BayStars outslug Swallows

by John E. Gibson (Apr 16, 2011)

The myth of the low-impact ball appears to be as unbefitting as the assumption the Yokohama BayStars are again destined for the Central League cellar.

Tatsuhiko Kinjo slugged a two-out, three-run homer in the eighth inning and the BayStars recovered from blowing a three-run lead to top the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 9-7 in a homer-fest before 10,126 Friday afternoon at Jingu Stadium.

Kinjo's shot was the fourth of the day for the BayStars, who got a fifth home run in four games from Terrmel Sledge. The Swallows smacked two longballs of their own.

"It was a really tough game, but I just focused on doing my job and the result was a home run," said Kinjo, whose lone longball last season came on May 16.

"I'm glad I was able to get the job done."

Sledge belted a two-run shot in the fifth inning, and said the BayStars are taking out some frustration they have from three consecutive finishes in the CL basement.

"It's a long season, but I'll tell you, inside the clubhouse, in the dugout, we're a different team this year," said Sledge, in his second season with Yokohama after two years with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

"We're just sick of losing, you know. Everyone came out this year trying to prove a point: 'You can't just walk over us,'" said the 34-year-outfielder, who has five long balls in four games to tie the best homer binge to start a season in Japan Pro Baseball history.

Sledge matched the mark set in 1978 by the Hiroshima Carp's Adrian Garrett and equaled in 1989 by the Hankyu Braves' Boomer Wells.

On a day when leads were in constant jeopardy, Yokohama closer Shun Yamaguchi walked the first batter he saw in the ninth. But he induced a pair of groundouts before getting a fly to center to end the game for his first save.

The BayStars won their opening series Thursday for the first time since 2000, and are now two games over .500 after finishing the past three seasons an average of 46 games under.

"This year we will make games interesting all the way until the end," said second-year Yokohama manager Takao Obana. "That's the kind of baseball we want to play."

The BayStars certainly made it interesting by blowing a three-run lead in the seventh, then retaking the lead.

Brett Harper, who went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, led off the eighth with a single. He was erased on a double play, but Yuki Yoshimura battled after falling behind in the count 0-2 to line a single to left--his third hit--on a 3-2 pitch.

A walk later, Kinjo worked the count to 3-1 and slugged a high sinker out to left center.

"Kinjo took some close pitches and got the count to 3-1, and then just did a great job of hitting," said Obana, whose BayStars ruined the home opener for the Swallows and sent them to 0-3.

The BayStars touched up Yakult starter Shohei Tateyama for a run in the opening frame. Takehiro Ishikawa reached on a bunt that Josh Whitesell shoved over Tateyama, who was racing over to cover first.

The throw trickled into foul territory up the first-base line and Ishikawa didn't stop until he had reached second. Shuichi Murata followed by spanking a hard single to right center, and Ishikawa raced home to score, beating a strong throw from Wladimir Balentien for a 1-0 lead.

Yakult's Norichika Aoki opened the bottom of the first with a single, and Whitesell punished a fastball from Daisuke Miura, planting it high up in the seats in right with two outs for his first longball and a 2-1 Swallows lead.

In the fourth inning, Yokohama's Harper made the new low-impact Mizuno ball as lively as ever, taking what looked like a popup to left and driving it over the wall with Murata aboard for a two-run homer and a 3-2 lead.

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Eagles release stressed Morillo

Tohoku Rakuten Eagles on Friday granted right-hander Juan Morillo's request for his release after the Dominican Republic native said he was too traumatized by the March 11 disaster to continue playing in Japan.

The 27-year-old Morillo left the country following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Eagles' hometown of Sendai and never returned.

Morillo, who joined the Eagles last season but was limited to seven appearances due to injury, became the first foreign player to leave Japan pro baseball due to disaster-related stress.

Two J.League players had previously left their teams.


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