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Houlton's best start of the year adds to lead

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Houlton's best start of the year adds to lead
One of the lasting memories of this season for me was how horrible DJ Houlton had been against the Nippon Ham Fighters. In two starts against them this year, the former LA Dodgers prospect was 0-2 with an ERA of 40.50, and had not gone any longer than two innings against them. Today he finally reversed that trend and put up what could possibly be the best start he's had all season.

Even though it was just five and one-third innings, Houlton (W, 8-6, 5.49) gave up just two hits and no walks while striking out six. The relief corps did their job again as the Fighters were shut out for the 10th time this season in a 2-0 SoftBank victory.

With almost zero margin for error in a game this close, the Fighters were the ones that blinked. With the Hawks up 1-0 in the 3rd inning against Bobby Keppel and one out, Yuji Iyama booted a routine grounder from Honda that allowed him to reach. A little small ball followed with Honda's theft of second (his 53rd of the season) and a groundout from Matsuda got him to third. Kokubo then singled him in for the 2-0 lead.

This marred an otherwise great start from Keppel (L, 12-7, 3.34), as he went seven innings with two runs (one earned) on six hits, with one walk and four strikeouts.

The game settled down into a battle of the bullpens, as the Fighters needed three pitchers: Naoki Miyanishi, Yoshinori Tateyama, and Masanori Hayashi. The trio surrendered one hit in two innings with two strikeouts.

However, the Hawks bullpen was just as effective. Newly emerged lefty Morifuku worked a scoreless inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Settsu worked two-thirds of an inning, giving up two hits with a strikeout. Falkenborg had similar numbers over an inning, but he worked out of the jam Settsu had created. Mahara followed Morifuku's example and struck out two of the three batters he faced for save number 29 on the season.

Thanks to a Seibu loss today at the hands of Orix, the Hawks pulled another game ahead in the standings, at one and a half games ahead of the Lions for first place.

The two teams renew acquaintances tomorrow as the Hawks send the struggling Tsuyoshi Wada (14-7, 3.16) to the mound against Keisaku Itokazu (1-1, 5.92).
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