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Back Again, Hawks Lose 2 of 3 Agains Eagles

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Back Again, Hawks Lose 2 of 3 Agains Eagles

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It is now almost imperative that the Hawks take the Pacific League pennant. Why? Because of the Rakuten Eagles, the Hawks' principal tormentors in the last three seasons. This season, the Hawks are 9-11 against Rakuten, and the pesky Eagles always seem to make life miserable for SoftBank, especially late in the game.

Case in point, SoftBank seemed to have the first game of the series against their nemeses well in-hand, as Justin Germano fired 6 innings of solid one-run ball, while the SoftBank offense managed to scratch three runs across against Masahiro Tanaka. The now-healthy Brian Falkenborg teamed up with Settsu to work the 7th and 8th innings. It was a textbook setup to Mahara, and all seemed well in-hand.

Until Mahara imploded. He gave up a career-high 6 runs in the 9th inning, but none of them were earned as the Eagles sent 9 men to the plate in the final frame. The killing blow was a grand slam by Teppei, who has had a nice renaissance this season. The outburst in the 9th was enough to stun the Hawks, as they ended up losing, 7-4. Some solace can be taken in this loss, though. It was encouraging to see the home team get some hard-fought runs off Tanaka, and it was also encouraging to see Falkenborg return.

What was not encouraging was that the Hawks dropped yet another series in what seems to be a bit of a September swoon. DJ Houlton took the mound against Aoyama, but fatigue seems to be catching up to Houlton as he gave up 3 runs in 7 innings to take yet another loss.

This was not the stunning defeat that the previous game was, though. While being down for most of the game, SoftBank managed to make the game interesting in the 8th as they sent 10 men to the plate in the inning, and also faced three relievers: Satake, Kawagishi, and Arime. However, it wasn't enough as the Eagles got more off of Houlton, Ohtonari, and Makoto Satoh. Takeshi Yamazaki hit two home runs in the game to help seal the deal as the Eagles moved closer to the Hawks in the standings.

On Sunday, it was Toshiya Sugiuchi to the rescue again. The Hawks ace also played stopper and gave the weary SoftBank bullpen a rest as he went the distance, dueling the whole way with former Yankee Darrell Rasner.

Sugiuchi struck out 11 batters and walked 3 in 9 innings, the only run that Rakuten would get coming in the first inning on an RBI single from Yamazaki after Sugiuchi walked Takasu and he was bunted to 2nd by Teppei.

The Hawks offense was struggling most of the day against Rasner and his array of breaking pitches, but they broke through and tied the game in the 5th on a one-out solo home run by career minor-leaguer Motohiro Yoshikawa.

In the meantime, Sugiuchi was perfect from the 3rd inning until there were 2 down in the 9th. He retired 21 batters in a row, and also 11 by way of the K. There was a scary moment in the 9th when Rakuten threatened to break the 1-1 deadlock. Teppei doubled and Yamazaki walked, but Sugiuchi retired former Fighter Segiugnol to end the threat.

That set the stage for a dramatic bottom of the 9th inning. Rasner, who was still pitching, gave up a single to Matsunaka to begin the 9th. He was pinch-run for by speedster Tsuji, and after Hasegawa walked, Tanoue bunted them both to 2nd and 3rd. Pinch-hitter Tamura was intentionally walked, which set the stage for Arime, who relieved Rasner, and Kawasaki, who was dropped to 9th in the order for this game. Munerin did not disappoint, as he rapped a 1-out single into center field for the game-winning run.

The dramatic 2-1 win meant that while the Hawks did lose only one game to the Eagles in the standings, a game lost is a game lost. The PL pennant race is heating up, with Nippon Ham in 1st, SoftBank 2.5 games in back of first, and Rakuten 5.5 games in back of first, three out of second place.

With only 19 games left in the season, the Hawks need to make every game count, especially with Rakuten having five games in-hand on SoftBank, and Nippon Ham with four. A good place to start would be against Orix, where the Buffaloes are playing for pride now. Expect Orix and Lotte to play spoiler. The Hawks start their final series of the season with Orix on Tuesday.
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