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Hawks Secure 5-3 Opening Day Win Against Darvish

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Hawks Secure 5-3 Opening Day Win Against Darvish

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Only once in the last two years had Yu Darvish lost to the SoftBank Hawks at Sapporo Dome. Couple that with SoftBank's first Opening Day on the road since 1999, and one would think that it is a recipe for disaster for the Hawks.

Darvish (0-1, 3.00) has dominated the Hawks throughout his short but illustrious career, but not on this day. Despite going the distance, the Hawks peppered him for seven hits and five runs (three earned) and generally pestered him all day long in support of their own starter, Toshiya Sugiuchi (1-0, 4.50).

Akiyama-kantoku said that the plan was to take advantage of Darvish's slow delivery to the plate and the Hawks did just that, playing small-ball to keep Darvish on his heels. Two of SoftBank's runs were set up by stolen bases from Munenori Kawasaki, and were immediately followed by Hiroki Kokubo coming through with the timely hit in both the 3rd and the 5th innings.

The big blow came in the 2nd inning, when Shinji Takahashi committed a costly error that allowed the first SoftBank run to score after Kokubo and Tamura both singled and then were sacrificed to 3rd by Lee Bum-ho. The second run came across on a groundout, but it was also unearned.

This is not to say that Nippon Ham didn't have their chances. Sugiuchi was way too fine with his pitches (especially with two strikes) and ended up walking three and striking out four.

Hawks-killer Makoto Kaneko started a rally in the bottom of the 3rd by singling his way on, then Kensuke Tanaka drew a walk and grizzled veteran Tomohiro Nioka singled in Kaneko, all with two down in the inning.

The biggest threat the Fighters had was in the 5th when, with one out, Itoi poked a single through the right side and past the outstretched glove of Honda. Koyano and Sho Nakata also reached to load the bases, but Sugiuchi managed to get Tsuruoka and somehow kept Kaneko from putting the dagger in the Hawks heart yet again.

The Fighters threatened again in the 6th when they put runners on to set up Nakata, and he delivered a 2-run hit to pull the Fighters ever closer at 4-3.

After the 6th, Sugiuchi was lifted (8H, 3ER, 3BB, 4K), also playing into Akiyama's strategy to use the trio of Settsu, Falkenborg and Mahara to close out games in this series, maybe in all three games if necessary.

The plan worked to perfection. Settsu worked the Fighters' Lucky 7, surrendering only a hit but then getting a double play and a strikeout, Falkenborg worked around a pair of hits to complete the 8th, and Mahara recorded a strikeout and worked a clean 9th for his first save of the season. He got some help as the Hawks pushed another run across in the top of the 9th to secure the final score at 5-3.

The Hawks send another lefty in Kenji Ohtonari to the mound this afternoon against another Hawks-killer, Masaru Takeda for the second game of this three-game set.
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