tampabay.com

Iwamura demonstrates lethal long and short game

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published April 7, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - How well Akinori Iwamura would adjust to the major leagues was one of the main questions heading into the season. But already, three games in, the Japanese third baseman seems to have all the answers.

For the second straight night, Iwamura scored the winning run, this time in walkoff fashion in the Devil Rays' 6-5 win over the Blue Jays. As he hopped across home plate and toward the dugout, Iwamura was tackled by teammates and disappeared into a pile of Devil Rays.

Iwamura was worthy of the celebration. He was 4-for-4 Friday, tying the Rays' single-game record for hits. He hit his first major-league home run, a 421-foot shot to right-centerfield in the fifth inning off Blue Jays starter Gustavo Chacin. He also made a pair of nice plays on sharp grounders to third.

Iwamura, who began the spring with just one hit in his first 22 at-bats, is now 7-for-11 .636 in his first three regular-season games in the big leagues. And in 13 plate appearances, he has reached base nine times and scored six of the Rays' 18 runs.

"A lot of people were questioning his spring," manager Joe Maddon said. "I felt this was a solid young professional. He's proven it to this point."

He entered his last at-bat Friday having already hit the homer and two singles up the middle, but none were as important as his bunt single in the bottom of the ninth after Delmon Young's tying two-run homer.

Iwamura placed an 0-1 bunt down the third-base line; it died after a high bounce off the turf. He said after the game it was his decision to lay down the bunt after he saw Toronto hitters attempt one-strike bunts earlier.

"The score was tied, and I already hit the home run," Iwamura said through interpreter Masa Koyanagi. "You may think about another home run and want more, but at the same time, after the first swing, I thought getting on the base was more important to winning this game."

Iwamura was opportunistic on the basepaths as well, going from first to third on Elijah Dukes' single through the hole at shortstop and scoring on B.J. Upton's infield single to shallow shortstop.

Moments later, after the pile, Iwamura received a celebratory shaving cream pie to the face in the clubhouse from Rays starter James Shields.

"The guy hits a home run ... and then he drops a bunt down in the last inning," Shields said. "He just has it all, man."

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com.