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Hawks back to 7 Games Behind Fighters

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Hawks back to 7 Games Behind Fighters
There are just games that you have to win. For the Hawks, they had back-to-back series with two of the cellar-dwellers of the Pacific League in the Rakuten Eagles and the Orix Buffaloes. SoftBank was four games back at the beginning of this critical 6-game stretch. Coming out the other side of it, the Hawks lost four of those 6 games, and now sit seven games in back of the mighty Fighters.

In the first game of the series, SoftBank was shut down by Hisashi Iwakuma over seven innings. The return of Jose Ortiz to the starting lineup didn't make a bit of difference as Hideaki Takahashi was roughed up over 5 and 1/3 innings. Teppei knocked in three of the six Rakuen runs and Fernando Seguignol added two more as Rakuten rolled, 6-0.

The second game wasn't much better for Hawks pitching. Kenji Ohtonari seemed a prime candidate to stop the SoftBank skid, but the lefty was roughed up for five runs on 6 and 2/3 innings. Former Swallow Miyade was responsible for 2 of the Eagles' five runs, and Fujiwara pitched seven brilliant innings for the home team as SoftBank lost again 5-1, with Ortiz accounting for the only offense that the Hawks would get.

In the finale, the Hawks' bats finally said enough was enough. Satoshi Nagai was lit up in the very first inning for six runs as he labored over four innings and gave up eight runs in that span. Arime was also hit up for four runs in his only inning of work. The only Rakuten pitcher who didn't give up any runs was Koyama.

That isn't to say that the Hawks pitching staff wasn't perfect. Fujioka gave up 4 runs in 6 innings, and the embattled Mise gave up 3 runs in 1 and 1/3 innings. Even Settsu gave up a run in his two-thirds of an inning.

This game was a wild affair, with the final score being 15-8. Matsunaka drove in four runs, two of which came via his 19th home run of the season in the 9th off Arime. Kokubo added two dingers of his own, a two-run blast in the first off Nagai, and a solo blast the very next inning. Every Hawk starter had at least one hit, and the only starter who didn't drive in a run was Ortiz.

After losing two out of three to the Eagles, SoftBank needed to rebound against the Buffaloes. However, the Buffs are a pesky sort, and with the return of Tuffy Rhodes, the Buffaloes lineup is more potent than ever.

The normally-reliable Justin Germano was hit hard in his start against Orix. Germano gave up 6 runs in 4 and 2/3 innings, and he was generally ineffective, but he did strike out 5 batters. The 5th was Germano's killing inning. Usually he gives up a run in the first inning or two, then settles down. However, this was the first time that Germano had truly fallen apart. He gave up 4 runs in the 5th, which sealed the fate for both him and the Hawks.

Shogo Yamamoto delivered 7 and 1/3 innings of brilliant baseball, leading to his 3rd-longest start of the season. Yamamoto only gave up 1 run on five hits, walking 4 and striking out 8. Katsuki, Ohkubo, and Kobayashi all combined to keep SoftBank off the board for the remaining 1 and 1/3 innings. Okada was the main offensive contributor for the Buffaloes, driving in three runs, two of them coming via the home run, his first of the season. SoftBank ended up taking yet another loss, 7-1.

The offensive woes continued the next day against Chihiro Kaneko. Kaneko has been very good this season, and he continued his winning ways with a complete-game, four-hit shutout. He also managed to strike out six while walking one. DJ Houlton was called on to be the stopper, but the Buffaloes batters have had a knack for hitting the Hawks' foreign pitching.

Houlton gave up four runs in 7 innings, and also gave up 8 hits and one walk in that span. The problem was compounded when Masahiko Morifuku gave up 2 runs in only 1/3 of an inning. SoftBank needed to rebound in the final game of the series, and who better to play stopper than ace Toshiya Sugiuchi?

One inning was all it took for the Hawks to get a win and avoid a series sweep at the hands of the Buffaloes. SoftBank scored 6 runs in the 6th inning off nemesis starter Satoshi Komatsu after him and Sugiuchi matched each other pitch for pitch for the first five innings.

The difference was that Sugiuchi could keep it up. He went 8 innings, giving up 1 run on 9 hits, striking out 8 and walking three. His offense backed him up with the 6-run 6th and the Hawks added 2 more runs in the 7th off Yasunari Takagi. The big blow in the 6th was a 3-run home run off the bat of Matsunaka, his 20th of the season off Shimizu.

The very next inning, SoftBank added two more off the bat of Hidenori Tanoue, who clubbed his 16th home run of the season off Takagi.

SoftBank's next series is a critical one against the Saitama Seibu Lions. Despite the Lions being 6 and 1/2 games in back of the Hawks for 2nd place in the PL, SoftBank needs wins to gain some confidence back and also potentially make up some ground on the white-hot Fighters.

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Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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