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Kitagawa Shoots Down Hawks; Buffaloes Split Series

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Kitagawa Shoots Down Hawks; Buffaloes Split Series
Hirotoshi Kitagawa has been around the block in his career with both the Hanshin Tigers and Kintetsu/Orix Buffaloes. In his 15th season, he has seen almost everything there is to see as a player, and that experience helped him today to secure only the Buffaloes' 9th road win of the season in the 11th inning.

A single by ex-Eagle Jose Fernandez set the table, and then a steal of second base by pinch-runner Fumihiro Suzuki put the winning run in scoring position. After Greg LaRocca fouled out, the veteran Kitagawa singled home Suzuki off reliever Fujioka to end the game with Orix on top, 6-5.

After yesterday's rainout, and also thanks to a rout in the first game by SoftBank, the Hawks bullpen was well-rested. It was the reason why the Hawks bullpen was able to keep the game close until late, and also why the team was able to shrug off a 5-inning performance from starter Justin Germano.

The pesky Buffaloes hitters gave Germano a lot of trouble, and he was at 90 pitches after 5 innings, and they were also none too pleased with his hitting of two straight batters in the first inning. Fernandez and LaRocca were both plunked, but nothing came of it.

SoftBank was able to put up a crooked number in the second inning as Hitoshi Tamura made Orix starter Chihiro Kaneko pay for hitting Hiroki Kokubo by flashing his opposite-field power. The blast put SoftBank up 2-0, and it was also Tamura's 3rd home run in the last four games. He is also over halfway to his career high in home runs with SoftBank with 7 (his career high with the team is 13, set in 2007).

Trouble found Germano in the very next half-inning, though. He gave up four hits, all singles, which led to two runs and a tie game, one of those runs driven in by Kitagawa.

SoftBank would have none of the tie, breaking it in the bottom of the 3rd. Yuichi Honda continued his modest 5-game hitting streak by singling to lead off the inning. After Kawasaki bunted Honda to 2nd and Ortiz walked, Matsunaka doubled home the speedy Honda to stake SoftBank to a 3-2 lead.

The next inning Orix and SoftBank matched runs, with Kawasaki muffing a grounder, leading to Yamazaki scoring and a potential inning-ending double play went under the bridge. The Hawks matched Orix's run with Hidenori Tanoue's single driving in Yuya Hasegawa.

Things quieted down between the two teams after a wild first four innings. Both teams scored in their Lucky 7, but it was Orix who delivered the bigger blow. Against ace rookie reliever Tadashi Settsu, Orix scratched across two runs off Settsu to put the Buffs ahead 5-4, but the Hawks answered right back, as Jose Ortiz singled in Honda to tie the game up again at 5.

A warning sign is that Settsu is at about the same number of appearances now as last year's rookie reliever Yuki Kume was when he hit the rookie wall. In the last two weeks, Settsu has given up 5 earned runs in 4 innings, a definite sign of trouble and overuse.

Brian Falkenborg was called on for the 8th and 9th, and he delivered admirably, surrendering only a hit and a walk in 2 innings. Akio Mizuta (who pitched the 6th) and Takahiro Mahara (10th) both gave up 1 hit in their only innings of work.

On the other side, the Buffaloes bullpen did not give up a hit in the last 4 and 2/3 innings of the game. Akio Shimizu (1/3 inning), Masanobu Ohkubo (1/3), Ryota Katsuki (2), and Daisuke Katoh (2) all held the line, as the Hawks did not even have a baserunner until the 11th when Katoh hit defensive replacement Muramatsu with a pitch.

Neither Kaneko (6.1 IP, 10H, 5ER, 2BB, 6K) nor Germano (5 IP, 7 H, 3E, 2 ER, 1K, 2 HBP) factored in the decision. Instead, Daisuke Katoh took the win, he improves to 3-0. Yoshiaki Fujioka took the loss, he falls to 2-3.

Nippon Ham won today over Rakuten to increase their lead in the Pacific League to 1.5 games over SoftBank, although the Hawks are (as of now) securely in 2nd place, 6.5 games ahead of 3rd-place Rakuten.

Next up for the Hawks is a pivotal series against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, starting on Saturday. Though the series is two games long, there is the potential for the Hawks to end the series in first place, but the Hawks must sweep.
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