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Sugiuchi, Hasegawa, Break out Brooms on Fighters

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Sugiuchi, Hasegawa, Break out Brooms on Fighters
This was just what the doctor ordered for the SoftBank Hawks. A week ago, the Fighters were running away with the Pacific League pennant. Then a flu outbreak hit the Fighters locker room and the team hasn't won a game since. Perfect timing for the Hawks to rally, and they did this weekend.

Masaru Takeda, who has terrorized the Hawks alongside Yu Darvish since 2007, took the mound against SoftBank lefty ace Toshiya Sugiuchi. For the first five innings, it was a classic pitcher's duel.

The Fighters did strike first in the first inning, but for their only run of the game. Kensuke Tanaka drilled a 3-2 pitch into the gap in right-center for a stand-up double, and he came around to score thanks to a sacrifice by Yang and an RBI groundout that could've ended the inning. Shinji Takahashi hit a high chopper to Satoru Morimoto at 3rd who rifled it to second for the 2nd out, but Takahashi beat the relay by the smallest of margins which allowed Tanaka to score.

From then on, Sugiuchi was on cruise control. He mowed down batter after batter, at one point retiring 11 in a row. The Fighters would not get another hit until the 9th inning when Takahashi doubled to bring the tying run to the plate in Terrmel Sledge, but he was set down on strikes to end the game and secure the sweep.

The pesky Takeda didn't make things easy for the Hawks batters, though. He gave up at least one hit through the first five innings, but always found a way to not let those hits hurt him. At least, that was the trend through the first five innings.

For the second straight day, the Hawks put up what proved to be a game-winning rally in the 6th. With one out and Kawasaki on first thanks to a plunking from Takeda, the speedy Hawks shortstop swiped second (his first of three steals on the day), then came in to score on Kokubo's single. After Tamura flew out, Tanoue was intentionally walked to get to the left-hander Hasegawa. Hasegawa made Takeda pay for that decision as he lifted a 2-run double that scored both Kokubo and Tanoue and gave the Hawks a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish.

Takeda would not finish the 6th, as he was replaced after the Hasegawa double. The pesky Nippon Ham junkballer took the loss, his second against SoftBank this season, giving up all three SoftBank runs on 7 hits over 5 and 2/3 innings while striking out 5 and walking 2.

Normally a performance like that is good enough to win, but not when Sugiuchi pitched like he did today. He would go the distance, giving up 1 run on 2 hits, walking 3 and striking out a career-high 15 batters on 143 pitches. He joins Keishi Suzuki, Kida, Kudoh, and Sonokawa as one of the few lefties that have struck out 15 batters in a game.

Thanks to the sweep which the Hawks so desperately needed to get back into the PL pennant race, SoftBank is now 3 games in back of the Fighters going into this week, which starts with a three-game series against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

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Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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