Nothing beats a good first impression.
Just ask new Yomiuri Giants Gregory Polanco and Taisei Ota, both of whom stood on the hero interview podium and soaked up the admiration of over 38,000 fans after opening the new NPB season in style.
Polanco had three hits in his NPB debut, including a tie single in the fifth inning, and Taisei, a rookie, got into a jam in the ninth before pinning the save as the Giants opened the 2022 season with a 4-2 on Defeat the Chunichi Dragons in Tokyo Dome on Friday night.
Polanco singled in his first two at-bats before putting the Giants ahead to stay in the fifth with his hit against Yudai Ono.
“I feel great,” Polanco said. “I feel great to be here. That’s a great feeling for me, especially on the opening day. The fans and my teammates, everyone, the coaches, they welcomed me with a lot of energy and I’m really happy to be here.”
Yoshihiro Maru drove the game’s first run with a home run in the second, but the Dragons hit back with an RBI single from Yuki Okabayashi in the third and a home run from Dayan Viciedo in the fourth.
Taishi Hirooka, Polanco and Kazuma Okamoto drove in runs to give the Giants a 4-2 lead in the fifth. The score stayed the same as Ota went into the ninth round and emerged from the bullpen.
The 22-year-old rookie hit the first batter he faced before giving up the singles to Yohei Oshima and Okabayashi. Ota retired the nearest batsman but hit Viciedo to load the bases. He finished Takuya Kinoshita on a grounder to end the game and became the first rookie in team history to make a save on opening day.
“I really believed that he would hold her down,” said starter Tomoyuki Sugano. “I wasn’t entirely well,” he joked. “I was kind of apprehensive to see it.”
Unlike his new teammates, Sugano has been here before, with Friday’s game marking his eighth opening day for the club.
“It was my eighth time, but this time I was probably the most nervous,” Sugano said.
The two-time Sawamura Prize winner had a difficult 2021 season and was shaky during the Giants’ spring games.
“Looking at my pre-season results, there were a few things I was worried about,” Sugano said. “I think I was able to do the minimum today and I think I got off to a good start.”
Sugano slightly outperformed Ono in a matchup bout of former Sawamura Award winners, allowing two runs of seven hits in six innings. Credited with the win, Sugano set a new Giants record with his fifth win on opening day.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “However, I could not achieve this alone. Also today my teammates shot the first run for me and then came from behind.”
The teams played in front of large crowds as previous attendance restrictions due to COVID-19 were lifted. A crowd of 38,156 was in the Big Egg. While the familiar songs and chants of Japanese baseball were still missing, Polanco’s experience didn’t detract from it.
“The atmosphere here is amazing,” he said. “All the fans are cheering for you and they are so happy and they support you. I’m happy to be here and I want to do my best in every game to try to win games and win the league.”
Ono (0-1) gave up four runs – three earned – in his six innings on the mound. He allowed eight hits, hit three and lost with a pair.
Maru opened the scoring with his home run in the second round to give the Giants an early lead.
Ono hit a two-out infield single in the top of the third, advancing two bases when Oshima smacked a ball into the outfield and Polanco made an error. Okabayashi followed with an RBI single to even the score.
Viciedo converted an unassisted double to end the third and set his team up with a home run from opposite field to lead the fourth.
“I thought it was gone when I hit it,” he told reporters.
Yomiuri’s Naoki Yoshikawa came in fifth with a two-out infield single that was confirmed after a Reply review and came home with a game-winning RBI double from Hirooka.
Polanco hit his tie singles to put Yomiuri back in front, and Okamoto launched another run with an RBI double that led to the 4-2.
For other games
Swallows 10, tigers 8
Carp 11, BayStars 3
Marines 4, Eagles 0
Oxen 6, Leo 0
Falcon 4, Fighter 1
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