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Still Stuck in Neutral

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The title defense begins! Welcome to 2012, Hawks fans!

Still Stuck in Neutral

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Needing to make up some ground, the Hawks came into a short two-game series with the Chiba Lotte Marines. With Tsuyoshi Wada on one side and Sho Iwasaki on the other, once again it was a tale of two games, as the Hawks have had so often this past month.

The first game of the series saw the Hawks edge the Marines 1-0 in 11 innings to secure a hard-fought sayonara victory. Starters Wada and Yoshihisa Naruse matched zeroes for nine innings in an epic pitcher's duel. The big difference was the walks: Naruse had one against 10 strikeouts and and five hits, while Wada walked seven and struck out seven against three hits.

The crushing blow came in the bottom of the 11th, with prodigal son Yasuhiko Yabuta on the mound for the Marines. It was a rather quick turn of events, as Yabuta (L, started the inning by giving up a single to Honda. Matsuda sacrificed him to second, but Kawasaki walked to set up the double play ball. Jose Ortiz then registered the second sayonara hit of his career for the victory.

Looking to stop the streak of win one, lose one, the Hawks sent Sho Iwasaki to the mound, hoping that he wouldn't have the same kind of awful performance that he did last week against the Buffaloes.

It didn't happen as the Hawks righty prospect was once again nothing short of an adventure. Iwasaki avoided the walks, as he had none, but he gave up five runs in four-plus innings, the first two of which came off the bat of Kazuya Fukuura in the 2nd.

It didn't get any better for the Hawks as lefty junkballer Bill Murphy shut down the offense over eight innings, with five hits and six strikeouts against one walk and one hit batsman. Murphy (W, 7-2, 3.81) pounded the strike zone all day long, keeping Hawks batters off-balance with a tough slider and change, mixing in a pinpoint fastball. Converted starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi pitched a perfect ninth with one strikeout.

Against Iwasaki (L, 0-3, 8.06) however, the Marines performed almost as expected. They got one more in the 3rd on an RBI double to center by Imae, then registered two more runs off Iwasaki in the 5th, as the first two batters in Okada and Nishioka reached.

Yoshiaki Fujioka then made matters worse by giving up an RBI single to Imae followed by two walks: one to Iguchi to load the bases, and then an oshidashi to Kim Tae-Kyun to give the Marines another one.

It was Morifuku's turn to ace the Marines order, and he gave up a sac fly to Saburo before he settled down and stemmed the Marines tide for three innings.

Lotte would add four more in the 9th off Kanazawa, who was uncharacteristically bad after a string of good relief appearances, whether when needed, or in mop-up. The final score would be 11-0, with the Hawks having made up no ground.

The resurgent Nippon Ham Fighters are on the Hawks tail by only one game. With not much time left before the All-Star Break, the Hawks need to have some good games and use the time to get some guys healthy. Toshiya Sugiuchi (11-3, 3.50) goes for the Hawks against the Rakuten Eagles, who counter with Darrell Rasner (2-7, 4.55) at Kleenex Stadium Miyagi.
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