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Seven-Run 9th Powers Hawks to Win

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Seven-Run 9th Powers Hawks to Win

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Shogo Yamamoto, going into today's game against the SoftBank Hawks, had been a nemesis for the boys from Fukuoka. He was 2-0 with an ERA under 2.00, and had been baffling the Hawks batters with an array of off-speed and breaking pitches.

Not today. Going into the home stretch of the season, the Hawks need to make every game count, and they did today against Yamamoto, knocking in five runs against the Orix lefty. But the Hawks weren't done after Yamamoto left the game. SoftBank exploded for seven runs in the 9th inning off two relievers in the weak Buffs bullpen to propel themselves to a 12-4 win.

SoftBank sent their own tormentor to the mound in Hideaki Takahashi. Going into the game, Takahashi had only given up one run to the Buffaloes in three appearances, one start.

With the matchup of the tormentors set, it was up to the lineups to see who would break through first. Despite all the trouble that the Hawks had against Yamamoto in the last two starts against him, SoftBank got off to a great start against the Orix left-hander in the first inning.

The key for the Hawks was to make the inevitable walks from Yamamoto hurt him, and when the pitcher walked Nobhiko Matsunaka with 2 down in the first, the visitors made sure that he would pay. Kokubo singled his way on, and then Tamura doubled home both runners to put the Hawks on the board first, 2-0.

That would prove to be all that Takahashi needed. Over his 5 and 2/3 innings, the sinkerball artist gave up only a single run in that span, while also striking out five batters, but also walking five. He has had problems with his control, but he has not been giving up runs. He ducked out of trouble in two of his innings, working around an error and a walk in the first, then a walk and a single in the 3rd.

The only run that Takahashi was charged with came thanks to a leadoff home run in the 5th, and it was off the bat of the light-hitting Takahiro Okada. Takahashi avoided further damage after Sakaguchi singled and Alex Cabrera walked by getting the dangerous Tuffy Rhodes to ground out.

By that time though, the Hawks had added three more thanks to an RBI single in the 4th by Yuichi Honda, and then the slumping Hitoshi Tamura added two more on his 16th home run of the season. After five innings, the game was still within reach for the Buffaloes at 5-1.

Yamamoto was done after five innings, giving up as many runs on 9 hits, walking 2 and striking out 2. His relievers, Shimizu (one inning) and Kawagoe (two innings) both posted scoreless outings to get the Buffs to the 9th, while they scratched two more runs off Hawks relievers Akio Mizuta and Brian Falkenborg to pull to within 5-3.

Then the meltdown came in the 9th with Ryota Katsuki on the mound for Orix. Matsunaka got the inning started on the right foot by hitting his 23rd home run of the season, a solo shot that doubled the Hawks lead to 6-3. Pinch-hitter Nobuhiro Matsuda singled his way on in his first appearance back from getting hit by a pitch in the elbow last month, which led to a stint on the disabled list.

After Katsuki struck out Kokubo and pinch-hitter Yoshikawa, the hit parade began in earnest. Tamura singled his way on, Hasegawa walked, then pinch-hitter Arakane, Hidenori Tanoue, and Satoru Morimoto all singled to put the game out of reach. An error by Mitsutaka Gotoh capped the scoring.

Mahara gave up a run in the 9th, but it hardly mattered as the Hawks stomped the Buffaloes and ended up gaining a game on the Rakuten Eagles, as they lost to the Fighters earlier today. The Hawks remain 2 and 1/2 games in back of the Fighters, and the Eagles fall back to 7 and 1/2 games in back of first place.

SoftBank gets back to work tomorrow against the Buffaloes for the second of three games in this series. Tsuyoshi Wada (3-4, 3.70) goes for the visitors while Kazuki Kondoh (7-10, 5.59) pitches for the home Buffaloes.
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