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John E. Gibson

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Swallowed up: Yakult rallies as Giants suffer 2nd straight defeat to start season

by John E. Gibson (Apr 1, 2012)

The blustery conditions outside Tokyo Dome on Saturday were strikingly similar to the mood of many Yomiuri Giants fans inside: unpleasant.

Many of the 42,515 in attendance fidgeted through a second consecutive loss by a member of Yomiuri's vaunted rotation as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows rallied to win 6-3.

Hiroyasu Tanaka, who had a two-run homer in the sixth inning, drew a bases-loaded walk to get the Swallows even, and pinch-hitter Yasushi Iihara doubled home the tie-breaking runs in a three-run seventh that vaulted Yakult past Yomiuri, winless after two games.

Yomiuri starter Hirokazu Sawamura (0-1)--the Central League's top rookie last year--went 6-1/3 innings and departed after issuing two free passes in the seventh. His successor, Yuya Kubo, walked two more, including Tanaka to force in the third Swallows run, and Yakult ended up plating three runs with just one hit.

The Giants, meanwhile, were left to stew.

"Sawamura's pitching in the toughest innings, the sixth and the seventh...," Yomiuri skipper Tatsunori Hara said, biting his lip and holding his tongue.

The Giants, who on Friday came within two outs of being the first team to get no-hit on Opening Day, scored three runs in the third, but never really rallied again.

"The two double plays in the fifth and sixth innings were real killers for us," said Hara, whose club had seven hits but only three after the third.

The Swallows, who have won their first two games of the season for the first time since a three-game sweep of the Giants at Jingu Stadium to open 2008, got a strong performance from their bench.

"The players really did a great job of stringing hits together," Yakult manager Junji Ogawa said. "Iihara did well in that situation. He didn't have a great season last year and maybe this can be something that gets him going."

The Giants got going by capitalizing on wildness from starter Kyohei Muranaka to put together a big third inning.

Takayuki Terauchi opened with a walk. After a sacrifice, Hayato Sakamoto doubled him in for the club's first run of the season. Hisayoshi Chono doubled to right before Muranaka plunked Shinnosuke Abe. Shuichi Murata followed with the third double of the frame to make it 3-0.

Muranaka also hit Yoshinobu Takahashi in the inning to load the bases, but got Michihiro Ogasawara to fly out to stop the bleeding.

Yuhei Takai hit for Muranaka to open the sixth and singled, his first hit since making the switch from pitcher to outfielder last autumn, and Tanaka pounded a high fastball out to left to make it a 3-2 game.

Elsewhere in the CL, Kenshin Kawakami fired six scoreless innings and Hirokazu Ibata and Ryosuke Hirata had three hits and two RBIs each as the back-to-back CL-winning Chunichi Dragons blanked the Hiroshima Carp 9-0 at Nagoya Dome.

At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Takahiro Arai's two-run, bases-loaded single gave the Hanshin Tigers the lead in the sixth inning, and the bullpen saved it for a 3-2 victory--the first for new skipper Yutaka Wada--over the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. It was the first loss for new Yokohama manager Kiyoshi Nakahata after the teams drew 5-5 on Friday night.

In Pacific League action at Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome, Yuichi Honda ripped a go-ahead bases-clearing double in the seventh inning as the reigning Japan Series champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks came back to beat the Orix Buffaloes 5-2.

Righty Sho Iwasaki (1-0) went seven innings, holding the Buffaloes to two runs on six hits and a walk in the Hawks' second straight victory.

Shoitsu Omatsu's sacrifice fly gave the Chiba Lotte Marines the lead and Tomoya Satozaki added an RBI in the fourth inning in a 5-3 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi.

Kensuke Tanaka slapped a single to right to cap a dramatic two-run, ninth-inning rally as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters edged the Saitama Seibu Lions 4-3 and to set up a possible sweep of their series today at Sapporo Dome.


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