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Cabrera, Kondoh lead the way for Buffs

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Cabrera, Kondoh lead the way for Buffs

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With a wacky follow-through and an arsenal of breaking pitches, it's been a roller coaster career for Kazuki Kondoh. Much like former Major League standout Bret Saberhagen, the sidewinding righty from Kanagawa has had good seasons in his even-numbered years, and mediocre to bad ones in odd-numbered years. One constant is his mastery of the SoftBank Hawks.

He has pitched more against the Hawks than any other team in his career, and coming into today at Yahoo! Dome, he was the owner of a 11-4 record with a 2.49 ERA, 1-1 and 1.21 this season.

Once again, Kondoh dominated the Hawks. He struck out 10 over eight innings of one-run ball over 138 pitches, and was backed up for a six-run second inning to give the Buffaloes a 9-1 win and a series win against the Hawks.

Despite letting Kawasaki get to third in the first inning, with two out Kondoh buckled down and made sure he didn't cross the plate and tie the game. From there, the only run he would give up came on an RBI groundout following a Hasegawa walk and a Tanoue double in the fifth inning.

From there, Kondoh came one short of a season-high in strikeouts, and it was clearly one of his best performances of the season. His only start that was better? His performance on April 14th, when he went eight and one-third innings, with no runs allowed and eight strikeouts.

The Orix offense once again proved to be more than capable, as everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit, with most of the damage coming from Cabrera (3-for-4, 3 RBI), T-Okada, and Yamasaki (2 RBI each).

On the other side, Sho Iwasaki continued to be part of the Hawks' main problem: their patchwork starting rotation. He was knocked around for seven runs in just one and one-third innings, as he once again had trouble with getting batters out. His performance, like the demoted Kenji Ohtonari, seems to hinge on whether he can consistently throw strike one or not.

As mentioned, the Hawks were once again victimized by the big inning, which seems to be a problem for them recently. In the second inning, the Buffaloes sent 11 batters to the plate, and all batters except for Baldiris and Hidaka had hits in the inning. Kitagawa led the inning off with a double, and after two outs, it looked like Iwasaki might get out of the inning, even coming one strike away from doing so.

Then the floodgates opened. Koji Yamasaki hit a double that was just fair down the third base line that scored Kitagawa. Iwasaki then walked Sakaguchi and gave up a single to Akada, once again coming one strike away from ending the threat. Cabrera doubled home two more runs in a bases-loaded situation, and from there, T-Okada chased Iwasaki with another RBI single. Akiyama gave the ball to Kanazawa gave up another RBI single to Kitagawa before finally retiring Baldiris to end the inning.

Once again, the SoftBank relief corps did a competent job, but one has to wonder how they would have done if the game was on the line. Kanazawa, Teruaki Yoshikawa, and Morifuku did good jobs, with Yoshikawa logging three innings and giving up two runs, one of them coming off the bat of Yamasaki, who hit a home run (1) to add to the Orix assault.

On the other end, the Hawks were looking pretty pathetic at the plate, especially Tamura and Tanoue. Tamura was fooled twice, and looked particularly off-balance, while Tanoue looked like he quit in his last at-bat, flailing wildly at two pitches that were clearly out of the zone.

With this loss, the Buffaloes pull one game closer to SoftBank, whom they trail by only two games in the Pacific League for the third and final playoff spot.

After a day off tomorrow, the Hawks get back to work at Sapporo Dome against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
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