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Two of Three Wins=2.5 Game Lead

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Two of Three Wins=2.5 Game Lead
SoftBank came to Osaka's Kyocera Dome looking to extend their lead in the Pacific League over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Despite losing the first game of the series, Seibu succeeded in sweeping Nippon Ham, giving the Hawks an opening.

In the next two games, SoftBank fought hard for the first win, then broke out the big bats for the other. In Game 1, Kazuki Kondoh (W, 4-6) dazzled the Hawks over 7 strong innings, doing an almost 180 from his performance the previous week. Kenji Ohtonari (L, 3-4) had also done a 180. Again, almost. Ohtonari was solid over 6 innings, but then him and Akio Mizuta had trouble keeping an aggressive Orix offense at bay.

With SoftBank ahead 1-0, the Buffaloes finally broke out. Orix scored 3 runs in the 7th and 2 more in the 8th to seal the deal as Orix took the first game.

Game 2 had a bit of a different tone. Chihiro Kaneko (L, 8-5) took the mound against Yoshiaki Fujioka. The Hawks went to work early, scratching a run across using some small-ball in the first. The next inning, the Hawks would get two more runs, and those three runs in the first two innings would prove to be all SoftBank needed.

Orix did not have a true answer for Fujioka, even though they scratched across a run in the 4th, but that was all the Buffaloes could get off the Hawks starter. Fujioka (W, 3-3) was relieved by a refreshed Tadashi Settsu, who had been shut down for a little bit so he could recover. In a close game, the Hawks have the other half of their dynamic relief duo, All-Star Brian Falkenborg. He pitched one inning and struck out the side. Takahiro Mahara made it interesting in the 9th by giving up a run, but he closed it down for his 15th save.

With the rubber game at hand, and the Orix rotation in tatters, Ohishi-kantoku was forced to go with Atsuhiro Mitsuhara. He did not last the first inning. SoftBank sent 10 men to the plate in the first, with walks getting the better of Mitsuhara. With the bases loaded, Matsunaka singled up the middle to score one run. Kokubo struck out for the first out of the game, but Tamura slapped a 3-2 fastball into right for a 2-run single. Then the wheels fell off Mitsuhara. Matsuda chased the Orix starter with a single, and Tanoue welcomed reliever Kawagoe with a single of his own.

In all, SoftBank scored 6 runs in the first inning, and it would prove to be all they needed, but they were also far from done. Kawagoe was called on to stop the bleeding, but he was knocked around himself. Kawasaki scored on a fielder's choice when he, already on third, scored when second-baseman Yamasaki tried to gun him down at home, but was late.

In the 3rd, Matsuda provided some pop by hitting his 5th home run to left-center, and the very next inning Tamura crushed a Kawagoe pitch to Kyocera Dome's back screen for his 9th home run. At 10-1, SoftBank had scored in every inning.

Justin Germano survived a shaky first. He seemed to be visibly shaken after giving up a 2-out home run to Jose Fernandez, his 8th of the season. After Alex Cabrera singled and Kitagawa walked, hot-hitting Ohmura flared a shot to second, but Honda made a brilliant leaping grab to snuff out a potential rally.

In all, Germano said himself in his hero interview that the offense made it easy for him today. With a 9-run lead, the former San Diego Padre went 8 effortless innings, giving up 2 runs while scattering 8 hits, walking 2 and striking out 2. The last run he gave up was in the 7th, when a double by Sakaguchi scored speedy pinch-runner Moriyama. Germano worked his way in and out of jams, getting around a leadoff double in the 5th, and also getting out of a 1st and 3rd situation in the 6th.

Big flame-throwing righty Jon Leicester took over for Kawagoe, and turned in three workman-like innings. As it turned out, he would be the only pitcher that was able to keep SoftBank off the board all day, as Shimizu was victimized by his defense in the 8th, leading to four runs. Kikuchihara gave up a run on three hits from Hawks subs Kidokoro (double), Nakanishi (RBI single), and Morimoto (single), the latter two coming in as defensive replacements and Kidokoro coming in as a pinch-runner.

Such a result was indicative of the day for Orix. Mitsuhara and Kawagoe both gave up 5 runs, Mitsuhara in 1/3 of an inning on 2 hits, with three walks. Kawagoe's five runs came in 3 and 2/3 innings on 8 hits, two of which were home runs. Shimizu gave up 4 runs, but none of them were earned thanks to the error at second. Kikuchihara gave up 1 run himself in one inning.

In all, Game 3 was a dominating performance on both offense and defense for the Hawks. SoftBank is now 2.5 games ahead of Nippon Ham for first place in the PL thanks to a Seibu sweep.

SoftBank has a tall task ahead of them tomorrow as the Hawks have to face Masahiro "Ma-kun" Tanaka (8-3, 1.69), who has traditionally dominated the Hawks in his career. Opposing him for the Hawks will be Shota Ohba (0-2, 6.61). This will be the first game in a three-game weekend series against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

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Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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