The expansion Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles defeated the Lotte Marines 3-1 in their first game Saturday as Japan's Pacific League kicked off the 2005 season in historic fashion.
The Eagles, Japan's first expansion team in 50 years, were formed after Japan's professional players staged a two-day strike last season over the merger of the Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave.
Playing with a squad made up of many players from those two teams, the Eagles rode a complete-game performance by ace Hisashi Iwakuma, who struck out seven and gave up one run on five hits.
"I'm very happy to be the first winning pitcher in the history of the Rakuten Eagles," said Iwakuma, who had a league-high 15 wins last season for the Buffaloes. "I was motivated by the mood on our bench and knew everyone really wanted to win this game."
The Eagles took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third on a double to center by Kenshi Kawaguchi and a single to left by Takeshi Yamasaki.
"I was inspired by the atmosphere in the stadium," said Kawaguchi. "The weather was great, the fans were great and this is an exciting way to get things started for our team."
The Eagles will play out of Fullcast Stadium in the northeastern city of Sendai. Their home opener will be on April 1 against the defending Japan Series champion Seibu Lions.
A capacity crowd of 28,353 was in attendance at Chiba Marine Stadium. About 700 fans made the trip from Sendai and sat in the left field seats cheering on the Eagles.
"Iwakuma pitched better than we expected," said Rakuten's American general manager Marty Kuehnert. "We've got a good little ballclub. Everyone picked us to finish last but we're in first place right now."
Lotte cut the lead to one run in the bottom of the seventh on catcher Tomoya Satozaki's bloop single that scored former Montreal Expos player Val Pascucci.
The Eagles got an insurance in the top of the ninth on Tadaharu Sakai's double to left that scored the runner from third.
Iwakuma retired Benny Agbayani, Pascucci and Matt Franco in order in the bottom of the ninth to nail down the franchise's first victory.
Rakuten manager Yasushi Tao shook hands with Lotte manager Bobby Valentine in a ceremony held before the game.
The Marines, who missed out on a Pacific League playoff spot last season by half a game, failed to take advantage of a strong pitching performance by ace Naoyuki Shimizu, who gave up three runs on six hits over 8-1/3 innings to take the loss.
In another Pacific League opener, Hiroshi Shibahara hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to lead the SoftBank Hawks to a 3-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Fukuoka Yahoo Dome.
SoftBank starter Tsuyoshi Wada picked up the win after giving up one run on five hits over 7-2/3 innings.
At Invoice Seibu Dome, Tomoaki Sato drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Seibu Lions to a 3-2 walkoff victory over the Orix Buffaloes.