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Bullpen Again Allows Hawks to Come Back

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Bullpen Again Allows Hawks to Come Back
Yoshiaki Fujioka has been a bit of an oddball in his time starting this season for the Hawks. Pressed into starting due to injuries, he has been good on and off, but starts like today show that the Hawks need Tsuyoshi Wada to come back, unless another starter emerges from ni-gun.

Masahiko Morifuku has not seen much action in his time in the bullpen. He has had cups of coffee with the top team, but he hasn't made any waves. Today, relieving for Fujioka, Morifuku may have taken a first step towards becoming a mainstay in the Hawks bullpen.

Despite Fujioka's difficulties, the Hawks struggling offense also managed to dig deep and erase their 4-1 deficit after 2 1/2 innings to come back and beat the Chiba Lotte Marines for the second straight game.

Fujioka did not get off to a good start in the first inning, but part of his troubles were thanks to Shoitsu Ohmatsu. Two batters after giving up a single, Ohmatsu (13) connected on Fujioka's first big mistake for a 2-run shot that gave Lotte a quick 2-0 lead.

SoftBank answered right back against Lotte starter Nao Shimizu. Tamura drove in Munenori Kawasaki after he singled and got to second on a Kokubo walk. Lotte's lead was cut in half to 2-1.

Fujioka was hardly on cruise control, throwing 50 pitches in the first two innings. He was clearly laboring and had trouble getting men out, as the Marine batters kept on fouling pitches off when getting down 2 strikes. It was how Ohmatsu got the pitch he needed to hit his 2-run blast, and it was how Saburo (13) connected with a 2-run shot of his own in the 3rd.

SoftBank's batters are clearly missing Jose Ortiz's bat in the lineup, as the team has had trouble scoring runs. The club was able to manufacture one in the 3rd, answering back in much the same way they did in the first to Ohmatsu's home run. Kawasaki laced an extra-base hit to left-center to lead off the 3rd. He appeared to be out trying to stretch it into a triple, but was awarded third after he was interfered with by Tadahito Iguchi. Lotte traded an out for a run when Matsunaka recorded an RBI groundout.

Shimizu was hardly on cruise control, but he was able to duck in and out of trouble on his way to a 144 pitch outing, spanning 7 and 2/3 innings. However, he did take the loss, thanks in no small part to Hiroki Kokubo. With a runner on in the 5th, Kokubo got a pitch to hit and crushed a home run (11) to left center into the stands and into the concourse. All of a sudden, the game was tied at 4.

Fujioka was chased after 2 and 1/3 innings thanks to the two home runs and an error which shattered his confidence. Morifuku was nothing short of brilliant over 4 innings of relief work, doing yeoman's work out of the bullpen. He kept the Lotte hitters from getting locked in, and only gave up 1 hit and no walks in his outing, also striking out 5 batters.

The only hit the diminutive reliever gave up was in the 7th, when Kazuya Fukuura singled his way on. Morifuku gave way to Tadashi Settsu, who promptly retired the next two batters.

With nothing doing in the Hawks' end of the 7th, the stage was set for one of the most exciting 8th innings in recent memory for the Hawks. Settsu trotted back out to the mound for the second straight day to try and keep the Lotte bats at bay. It didn't start well as Nishioka singled his way on, then after an out was recorded, Saburo singled Nishioka to third with one out. Ohmatsu came up with power to spare, but he struck out and Takehara grounded out to end the threat.

It was the Hawks turn in the bottom of the 8th. Shimizu, still out on the mound, started the inning well by retiring the Kokubo, not letting him use some of his power to give SoftBank the lead. The next batter was Tamura, and he singled his way on before being pinch-run for by Kidokoro. The speedy pinch-runner promptly stole second. Hasegawa then fouled out to put the rally in trouble.

Already tiring and having thrown almost 130 pitches by that point, Shimizu then walked Tanoue, then surrendered what proved to be the game-winning single to Muramatsu, who had gotten the start in right today. Ogino ended the bases-loaded threat after Morimoto singled has way on as well, but the outcome was already on the scoreboard. Mahara labored a bit in the 9th, but ended up recording his 22nd save of the year. Settsu ended up getting the win in relief (4-2), while Shimizu took the heartbreaking loss (4-4).

Thanks to a comeback win from Seibu today, the Hawks now sit 3 games in back of Nippon Ham for first place. Tomorrow Shota Ohba (0-2, 4.41) looks to rebound from his ejection in his last start. Opposing him is Yoshihisa Naruse (4-5, 4.32).

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Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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