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Saturday, April 1, 2000

BayStars open 2000 with a bang


Staff writer

YOKOHAMA -- The Yokohama BayStars began the post-Kazuhiro Sasaki era with a bang on Friday night, opening the 2000 season with a 7-6 victory over the Hanshin Tigers in 11 innings before a capacity crowd of 30,000 at Yokohama Stadium.

Tatsuya Shindo stroked the game-winning hit off Hanshin reliever Minoru Kasai after Yokohama had loaded the bases on a single by Bobby Rose, an intentional walk to Norihiro Komada and Takahiro Saeki reaching safely on a fielder's choice.

Shindo's shot into center field brought Rose home and sent the Yokohama fans home happy. Rose, back for his eighth season in Japan, had three of the BayStars' 17 hits -- including two doubles -- and reached base safely four times.

Rookie Atsushi Kizuka picked up the victory for the BayStars by pitching a scoreless top of the 11th. Kasai took the loss for Hanshin, which had 11 hits in the game.

"I was just trying to swing the bat well (on his final at bat)," said Shindo, who had three hits and two RBIs in the win. "I only had positive thoughts in my mind. I was just thinking of victory. I think this is a good start for us and I can foresee a good result in the fall."

The BayStars gave Hanshin left-hander Nobuyuki Hoshino, signed away from the Orix BlueWave as a free agent in the offseason, a rude welcome to the Central League by pummeling the usually crafty hurler for five runs on seven hits in just two innings.

Hoshino was rocked for five runs on six hits in the first inning alone, as the vaunted Yokohama "Machine Gun" offense worked him over like a batting practice pitcher. Rapping out one base hit after another off the 17-year veteran, the BayStars looked like the team that stormed to the Japan Series title in 1998, and the not the team that finished third last season, as the first eight batters all reached base safely.

But just when it appeared the BayStars were going to win in a blowout, the Tigers rallied to take a 6-5 lead and turn it into a tight contest.

After walking Takuro Ishii to start the game, Hoshino promptly picked the speedster off first base. It went downhill in a hurry afterward, as Toshio Haru was hit by a pitch, Takanori Suzuki doubled and both came home on a single by Rose to give the BayStars a 2-0 lead.

Komada followed Rose with a single and then Saeki had another base hit to score Rose to make it 3-0. Shindo then made it five hits in a row off Hoshino when he delivered a base hit that plated Komada.

At this point Hoshino was looking shell-shocked and surrendered his sixth straight hit, when Motonobu Tanishige drove home Saeki with another single and the count was now 5-0 with still only one out. Mercifully for Hoshino, his counterpart Takeo Kawamura came to bat next and struck out, and Ishii then grounded out to short to end the inning.

Hanshin pulled a run back in the third inning on a double by Makoto Imaoka, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly from Tomochika Tsuboi.

The score remained 5-1 until the top of the sixth with Kawamura cruising along, before the wheels came off after Hiroshi Hirao smashed a solo homer to center field, Tsuyoshi Shinjo drove in Tsuboi and Yutaka Wada with a double up the right-field alley, and Yasuaki Taihoh scored Shinjo on a sacrifice fly after a wild pitch to tie the game 5-5.

It got worse for Kawamura, as Akihiro Yano followed Taihoh to the plate and poked a solo homer just inside the right-field foul pole to give Hanshin a most unlikely 6-5 lead after its cause had looked pretty glum just a few minutes earlier.

Kawamura, 17-6 last season, surrendered five runs on five hits and a sacrifice fly in the inning and suddenly the Yokohama faithful were wondering what had happened.

The BayStars fought back in the bottom of the frame, however, as Ishii led off with a double to right-center and scampered to third on a throwing error on the play. Haru then tied the game 6-6 with a short flare to right and Suzuki singled to center to send southpaw Makoto Yoshino, the Tigers third pitcher of the night, to the showers.

Right-hander Atsunori Ito relieved Yoshino and promptly induced Rose to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, with Suzuki moving to third on the play. Shoji Toyama then took the hill to face Komada and got the left-handed batter on a grounder to first to end the inning.

Kawamura departed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh, having allowed six runs on eight hits on the evening.

Sasaki, now working out of the bullpen for the Seattle Mariners, is the all-time leader in career saves in Japan and was a big reason the BayStars were champions in '98 when the right-handed relief ace was the Most Valuable Player of the Central League. He missed the final two months of last season following elbow surgery, leaving a huge hole in the Yokohama relief corps and this year his absence from the roster could prove to be more of a psychological obstacle for the team to overcome than anything else.

But on Opening Night at least, the BayStars were able to walk away with a hard-fought victory without the big man.

CL champs go down

The Central League champion Chunichi Dragons had a bitter start to the new season, bowing to the Swallows 4-2 at the Nagoya Dome on Friday night.

Yakult starter Kazuhisa Ishii (1-0) fanned 11 batters and gave up three hits over seven innings.

With runners on second and third and two outs in the seventh, Tetsuya Iida singled to shallow left field to drive in two runs. Later in the frame, Shinichi Sato doubled to deep left field for two more, knocking out Chunichi starter Shigeki Noguchi (0-1).

Tatsuki Yamamoto relieved Ishii but gave up two runs on two hits in the ninth as Chunichi cut the deficit to 4-2. But closer Shingo Takatsu took the mound the rest of the way to earn the save.

Carp 5, Giants 4

Tomonori Maeda and Tomoaki Kanemoto each hit solo homers off Yomiuri starter Koji Uehara to stake Hiroshima to an early lead as the Carp held off the Giants at the Tokyo Dome.

Hiroshima's Shinji Sasaoka (1-0) started an opener for the first time in five years and held the Yomiuri sluggers to four hits over the first six innings. But the Hiroshima ace gave up a solo homer to Domingo Martinez in the seventh inning and a two-run blast to Hideki Matsui in the eighth as Yomiuri drew close.

Yasuhiro Oyamada then relieved Sasaoka in the ninth and recorded the first save of his career.

Uehara (0-1), last year's Rookie of the Year and Sawamura Award winner, allowed seven hits and struck out eight batters over seven innings.



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