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History still on hold as Buffs righty sizzles

by Jack Gallagher

OSAKA — Hisashi Iwakuma fired a two-hitter as the Kintetsu Buffaloes scored a key 5-0 victory over the Seibu Lions at the Osaka Dome on Tuesday night, boosting their lead in the Pacific League to 11/2 games, and keeping the dream of going worst to first in just one season alive.

Central League WonLostTiedPct.GB Yakult 69 48 5 .590 – Yomiuri 70 58 2 .547 4.5 Hiroshima 57 57 7 .500 10.5 Yokohama 56 61 3 .479 13.0 Chunichi 57 63 3 .475 13.5 Hanshin 50 72 1 .410 21.5 Pacific League WonLostTiedPct.GB Kintetsu 72 58 2 .554 – Seibu 72 61 0 .541 1.5 Daiei 70 61 1 .534 2.5 Orix 62 63 4 .496 7.5 Lotte 61 66 2 .480 9.5 Nippon Ham 50 78 3 .391 21.0

The Buffaloes, last in the PL in 2000 with a 58-75-2 mark, have eight games remaining this season, and after going through a rough patch, seem to have regained their stride. They are indeed beginning to look like a team of destiny.

Iwakuma (4-1) was nothing short of brilliant, striking out six and walking just one while not allowing a runner past second base on the way to victory. Batterymate Kenji Furukubo did his part as well, driving in three runs to lead the Buffs to their second straight win over the Lions.

Tuffy Rhodes went 2-for-4 and scored a run, but was kept out of the home run column for the fourth straight game. He remains at 54, one short of Sadaharu Oh’s single-season record set in 1964.

“I feel good,” said Rhodes. “We played a great game tonight. We saw a 20-year-old guy throw a two-hitter. He (Iwakuma) was unbelievable. He’s been our savior the whole season.”

Rhodes singled in the bottom of the first inning on a 3-1 pitch. In the third he doubled up the alley in left-center field on a 2-0 pitch.

Rhodes flied out to center on a 1-2 pitch in the fourth. He got good wood on the ball, and the crowd roared as they thought No. 55 was about to leave the yard, but the drive quickly ran out of gas.

In the sixth inning, Rhodes lined out to second on a 1-2 pitch.

“The third at-bat the ball got in on me a bit,” Rhodes commented. “I was looking for a fastball away. He threw it inside. I think if it had been a bit more away I could have put it in the seats. But that’s the way the game goes. I had four great at-bats, so we will go and get them tomorrow.”

The Buffaloes took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run triple by Furukubo. Seibu starter Hsu-Ming Chieh (11-5) walked Koichi Isobe to start the frame and an out later issued a free pass to Kenji Kawaguchi.

Shawn Gilbert came up next and reached on a fielder’s choice when Kawaguchi was forced at second. Furukubo followed with a blast over the head of center fielder Tatsuya Ozeki that scored Isobe and Gilbert.

Kintetsu boosted its margin to 3-0 in the third, when Rhodes led off with the double and then came home on a single to right by Norihiro Nakamura. Hsu then walked Isobe. Yuji Yoshioka, after attempting to sacrifice unsuccessfully, drove in Nakamura when he poked a single just inside the line to right to give the Buffaloes a 4-0 advantage.

Seibu manager Osamu Higashio had seen enough at this point, deciding that on this night Hsu just didn’t fit. The Taiwanese right-hander departed having allowed five hits and four walks in two-plus innings.

The Buffaloes boosted their lead to 5-0 in the fifth off reliever Hayato Aoki. With one out, Yoshioka singled, Kawaguchi doubled and pinch-hitter Daisuke Masuda walked to load the bases. Furukubo then hit a high bounder to third that Seibu’s Scott McClain had to wait for, as Yoshioka scampered home, before throwing to first for the out.

In the sixth, Iwakuma was particularly adept, fooling both Kazuo Matsui and Alex Cabrera with 104-kph changeups that both hit sky high for infield outs.

Hawks 8, Fighters 1

Noriyoshi Omichi went 4-for-5 and drove in the winning run on a bases-loaded single that ended a 1-1 tie in a four-run fourth inning as Daiei beat Nippon Ham at the Fukuoka Dome.

Junji Hoshino held the Fighters to a run on eight hits to earn his 13th win of the year. Nobihiko Matsunaka ripped his 35th home run, a solo homer, in the sixth inning.

Marines 2, BlueWave 1 (10)

Frank Bolick scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning as Lotte posted a “sayonara” victory at Chiba Marine Stadium.

Yoshitomo Tani hit a game-tying solo homer in the eighth inning to send the action into extra innings, but committed a crucial error in the 10th that allowed Bolick to score.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Swallows 5, BayStars 1

Satoshi Iriki yielded a run on four hits over six innings to win his career best 10th victory as Yakult had three home runs to defeat Yokohama at Jingu Stadium.

Alex Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the second inning while Akinori Inaba homered for two runs in the fifth.

Giants 8, Tigers 4

Yoshinobu Takahashi blasted a grand slam off Greg Hansell (4-11) in the bottom of the fourth inning, lifting Yomiuri over Hanshin at the Tokyo Dome.

Carp 3, Dragons 3 (12)

Takeshi Nakamura hit a two-run roundtripper for Chunichi in the fifth inning as the two teams played to a tie after 12 innings at Hiroshima Stadium.