3/28/10 – Yomiuri (Away)

March 28th, 2010

Tokyo Yakult Swallows 5

Yomiuri Giants 2

Streak: Won 2   Last 5: LWW

(Tokyo Dome)

Do you smell that? It’s the smell of optimism. The night after Yoshinori pitched a superb 8 innings to land Tokyo their first win of the year 2010, Muranaka put in arguably an even better performance to give the Swallows a hugely encouraging opening series win the home of the reigning “champions”.

But lets rewind a little. On May 3rd 2008, in his first full season with the top team, Kyohei Muranaka came within two outs of throwing a no-hitter against the Giants at Jingu. That night he shut down the highly touted and expensively assembled Yomiuri offence with ease. At least until the last inning that was, as he eventually succumbed and then with a little help from the bumbling bullpen (stand up Igarashi) the Swallows eventually lost the game 5-0. Losses do not come much more painful than that one, and it could be argued that Muranaka has never been the same since.

Well it’s now 2010, and after a poor year in 2009, hopes were high going into this season that Muranaka could finally consistently realise his obvious potential. And though one game does not make a season, boy did he make a good start this afternoon. Kyohei threw 123 pitches in his 8 innings, allowing 2 runs off 5 hits while striking out a career-high 11, which was more than enough to earn him his first ever win against the Giants and go some way to healing those wounds from that May evening two years ago.

Tokyo named an unchanged lineup from the night before, with Fujimoto deservedly keeping his place at short:

  1. Fukuchi (RF)
  2. Tanaka (2B)
  3. Aoki (CF)
  4. D’Antona (1B)
  5. Guiel (RF)
  6. Miyamoto (3B)
  7. Fujimoto (SS)
  8. Aikawa (C)
  9. Muranaka (P)

The birds faced off against Yomiuri starter Tohno, and for the third straight game took a 1-0 lead early on, this time in the 2nd. Aaron Guiel hit a solo homer to right, his second shot in as many games, and it was 1-0 Tokyo.

In the 3rd, Fukuchi hit a two-out single and then, as is his custom, stole second with ease. Tanaka then hit one up the middle, but it hit Tohno’s leg and the Swallows had runners on the corners with two outs. Next man Aoki, who is having the exact opposite of his ice-cold 2009 start, then singled through the gap between second and third and it was 2-0. D’Antona worked a walk, and the bases were loaded for Guiel. He was hit in the foot to walk home run number three and it was 3-0 Tokyo. Next batter Miyamoto could only ground out to end the inning with the bases juiced.

One of the first signs of Takada-ness for the new season came in the 4th. Fujimoto led off the inning with a single, only for next man Aikawa, with pitcher Muranaka in the warm up circle, to be instructed to bunt. He executed perfectly, but the pitcher struck out as did Fukuchi and the runner was stranded.

The 5th saw more Swallows runners marooned. An Aoki double and D’Antona single put runners on the corners with one out, but both Guiel and Miyamoto could only hit shallow fly-outs and the lead remained at three.

In the 6th Muranaka saw his first sign of trouble, with a Matsumoto pinch hit triple and a Sakamoto ground out making it 3-1. But he maintained his composure to get put of the inning with no further damage being inflicted.

The 7th saw Tohno replaced by Kobayashi on the mound, but the change in pitcher did little for the Yomiuri fortunes. A Fukuchi lead-off single up the middle was followed by a Tanaka sacbunt for out number one. Aoki then hit a looping shot over the head of third baseman Ogasawara and into foul territory for a double and it was 4-1 Tokyo. D’Antona the did what he does best, bringing home runners, as he hit a single to right for 5-1. Jamie was replaced with pinch runner Noguchi, but a bit of poor running after Guiel flew out to right ended the inning.

In the bottom of the 8th, Sakamoto hit a solo homer to left for 5-2, but that was as close as they would get, with Lim earning his first save of the season with a perfect 9th, striking out the last two batters he faced. 5-2 Final.

The Swallows outhit the Giants 10 to 5, with the Aoki-D’Antona-Guiel cleanup trio again dominating, going a combined 6 for 10 (with 2 walks and a HBP) and bringing home all of the runs.

It’s looking like Tokyo have themselves their most dangerous foreign duo since that of Roberto Petegine and Alex Ramirez almost a decade ago. Hopefully Takada also recognises that fact and does not mismanage them as he did last year. At least they’ve both been signed to multi-year deals which is a huge step in the right direction for the often misfiring organisation.

The Swallows now have themselves a well earned day off before taking on the Dragons in the home opener at Jingu on Tuesday.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto