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Giants sharp in opener

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Giants sharp in opener

by Jim Allen (Mar 27, 2010)

Tetsuya Utsumi began turning things around quickly on Friday.

The Giants southpaw, who went 9-11 last season and didn't win a game until May 23, allowed an unearned run over eight innings as Japan champion Yomiuri beat the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 4-1 on Opening Day at Tokyo Dome.

Utsumi allowed four hits and two walks, while striking out 10 before a crowd of 44,315.

"I wanted to pitch a complete game, but the team comes first," Utsumi said. "When I leave the mound, I always think next time I'll go all the way.

"Today was a good start, but I want to keep pitching well enough to be the Giants' ace. I like to have big dreams."

Right-hander Marc Kroon faced four batters in the ninth to earn the save for the Giants.

Swallows ace Masanori Ishikawa lost his second straight Opening Day start, allowing four runs on 10 hits and five walks over seven innings.

He pitched out of a second-inning jam by retiring returning Giants hero Yoshinobu Takahashi with one out and the bases loaded.

Takahashi, who batted just once last year in a season wiped out by lower back pain, grounded out in his big chance but made up for it in the fourth inning, when he singled to tie the score at 1-1.

The RBI was his first since Sept. 23, 2008, in Hiroshima. A career outfielder making his debut at first base, Takahashi's every move drew thunderous applause from the appreciative fans and he rewarded them with a big hit.

"It has really been a long time. There are so many people I have to thank, who made it possible for me to come back--my family, the trainers, too many to name, really," Takahashi said.

"I don't know if I'm going to be a regular starter, that's going to depend on maintaining my form. Today is just the start. I have to keep getting results."

He fought his way back into the lineup by taking up first base and hitting .469 in the preseason with four homers in the Giants' final three spring exhibitions.

Shinnosuke Abe put the Giants in front in the fifth with a two-out, two-run single.

Tetsuya Matsumoto singled to open the inning. Alex Ramirez walked with one out. Edgar Gonzalez, who singled in the fourth and scored the Giants' first run, drew a two-out walk to bring the left-handed hitting Abe to the plate against the Swallows' southpaw.

Ishikawa came inside until the count was 3-2. When the lefty tried to get him to chase a cutter away, Abe grounded it up the middle to score two.

"Against a gutsy pitcher like that, you don't expect to get extra-base hits," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

"We countered with gutsy at-bats, getting lots of good swings on two-strike pitches and on full counts. We focused on going up the middle and that's where it all starts."

Ramirez singled home Matsumoto, who had three of the Giants' 11 singles, to make it 4-1 Giants.

The Swallows reached the scoreboard first with the help of a fourth-inning throwing error by shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.

A leadoff single, a forceout and a walk put runners on first and second, when Aaron Guiel hit a grounder to first. Takahashi's throw went to short, where Sakamoto made the force. But the shortstop's effort to complete a double play sailed into the Giants' dugout, allowing Norichika Aoki to score.

Rookie Hisayoshi Chono, Yomiuri's top draft pick last autumn, made his CL debut in the ninth inning, going in as a defensive replacement for Ramirez in left.

Meanwhile, Swallows rookie Takahiro Araki started at short and went 0-for-3.

In other Central League games:

CARP 3, DRAGONS 1: Hiroshima's Kenta Maeda outdueled Chunichi's Kazuki Yoshimi at Nagoya Dome to give Kenjiro Nomura a victory in his debut as a manager.

Maeda, making his first Opening Day start, allowed a run on four hits and struck out five without walking a hitter.

Maeda also had two hits and an RBI. Kenta Kurihara gave the visitors the lead with a two-run first-inning single against Yoshimi, who tied for the CL lead in wins last year with 16.

TIGERS 7, BAYSTARS 3: Playing in Japan for the first time since 2005, catcher Kenji Jojima drove in four runs to lead Hanshin to a come-from-behind victory over Yokohama at Kyocera Dome Osaka, handing Takao Obana the loss in his managerial debut.

Stephen Randolph, stepping in for out-of-form Yokohama ace Daisuke Miura, blew a three-run lead in the fourth.

Jojima tied the score with a two-run double and Kodai Sakurai homered to make it 5-3 Tigers.

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