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Battery powered / Highly touted rookie Sato earns 1st pro win behind catcher Fukukawa's two HRs

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Battery powered / Highly touted rookie Sato earns 1st pro win behind catcher Fukukawa's two HRs

by Jim Allen (Sep 7, 2008)

Yoshinori Sato knew he would have an uphill battle on his hands, and though it was a struggle the 18-year-old pitcher got the job done.

A week after allowing six runs in his pro debut, the Tokyo Yakult right-hander showed flashes of brilliance in his six innings on the Jingu Stadium mound as the Swallows downed the Yomiuri Giants 7 -4.

"I was told I'd start this game three days after my last start," said Sato, who allowed three runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batsman, but struck out eight and retired the first 13 batters he faced.

"They're the Giants, after all, so I knew I had a mountain to climb. But I was encouraged the team would trust me with this big game. The main thing is to go out and not let their big reputation alone beat you.

"After my last game, I said I would need to take care of some things. Although I was nervous the whole night out there, I was able to pitch within myself."

Sato, who lasted just 1-2/3 innings the previous Saturday, left this game for a pinch-hitter moments after batterymate Masakazu Fukukawa's second homer of the game made it 6-3 Swallows.

"It was a miracle," Fukakawa said of his decisive three-run shot that was his second off Giants reliever Daisuke Ochi in six at-bats this season.

"When he hits it, it's going to go," said Swallows skipper Shigeru Takada. "This is his real ability. He has that kind of pop. You just never know when he's going to make contact."

Fukukawa's first homer of the game, a two-run, second-inning shot off Giants lefty Tetsuya Utsumi (9-8), made it 3-0 Swallows.

With Sato cutting through the Giants at-bats with an excellent fastball around 150 kph and a wicked slider, it looked like a substantial lead. Unlike his previous start, his command was outstanding.

"I just threw my pitches and thought, 'If they hit them, more power to them,' that way I stayed in my rhythm."

The Giants got back in the game when Yoshinobu Takahashi turned a mediocre 2-0 fastball into a fifth-inning solo homer. In the sixth they scored two more after a super leadoff walk by Hayato Sakamoto threw the Swallows rookie off his rhythm. Sato allowed a hit and two walks and threw a wild pitch in the inning, while hitting a batter to force in a run.

With one out and the bases loaded, Alex Ramirez lined a sacrifice fly that tied it 3-3.

"I panicked a little," Sato said. "I was missing my spots but I didn't lose the plot. We kept attacking them inside and eventually got out of it."

The Swallows snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Giants and moved back into fourth place in the Central League.

Yakult is 1-1/2 games back of the Chunichi Dragons, while the second-place Giants dropped 4-1/2 behind the Hanshin Tigers.

"You have to hand it to him," Takada said of his rookie.

"If he didn't show us anything tonight, that would have been it. Instead, he came through big time.

"There are so many guys who pitch well but don't win. Deep down, he has the heart.

"Against that Giants lineup, you're not going to get away with second-best; you can't throw stuff up there and hope for the best. He has great stuff and confidence, but I still didn't expect this much out of him tonight."

Early on, the Giants' effort to prevent the first run backfired. With Yasushi Iihara on third after a leadoff double and a sacrifice, Keizo Kawashima's roller got through the drawn-in infield for an RBI single.

What would have been a routine RBI groundout instead put a man on for Fukukawa, who slammed an 0-2 fastball down the pipe into the left-field stands.

After homering off Ochi in the sixth, Fukukawa improved to 10-for-23 with five home runs in his last seven games. He walked twice and stole a base, the second of his career.

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