Masahiro Tanaka pitched into the sixth inning to earn his 191st win in top-flight pro baseball as the Rakuten Eagles opened Japan's season and the Nippon Ham Fighters' new ballpark with a 3-1 victory Thursday.
Before an Opening Day crowd of 31,092 at Es Con Field Hokkaido, the former New York Yankees star retired the first 13 batters he faced. Tanaka allowed a run on two hits while striking out five, walking two and hitting one over 5-2/3 innings.
The win was Tanaka's 113th in Japan. He also has 78 from his seven seasons with the Yankees.
"I was psyched up, ready to go and am happy to earn the win," said Tanaka, who became a national hero at a nearby Hokkaido high school. "I struggled a little in the fifth and sixth inning, but I opened the game strong and was able to make most of my pitches."
"It's my fate to be connected with Hokkaido, so I'm happy to have received this one-time opportunity and get the win."
Rakuten's Yukiya Ito hit the ballpark's first home run in the fifth inning. First-year import Maikel Franco, who has hit 130 home runs in MLB, made it 3-0 with a two-run sixth-inning blast off Fighters starter Takayuki Kato.
Go Matsumoto doubled and scored for the Fighters in the sixth on a sacrifice fly that chased Tanaka and left two men on.
Rakuten's southpaw closer, Yuki Matsui, worked the ninth inning to earn his 198th career save.
Japan's 2023 World Baseball Classic manager, Hideki Kuriyama, who managed Nippon Ham for 10 years, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to the Fighters' first skipper in Hokkaido, Trey Hillman, whose successor, Masataka Nashida, stood in the batter's box.
The new stadium boasts natural grass turf and a retractable roof. The remaining four Pacific League teams and all six Central League clubs will open their season Friday.