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Eagles ace Iwakuma handcuffs Buffaloes

by Jason Coskrey

Hisashi Iwakuma turned in another stellar performance at Tokyo Dome.

This time he got the help he needed to actually win the game.

The Tohoku Rakuten ace held the hard-hitting Orix Buffaloes at bay and Daisuke Kusano provided the fireworks at the plate to help the Eagles earn a 7-0 win in front of 20,598 fans on Saturday afternoon.

“I just just threw with a good tempo,” Iwakuma said. “Our position players scored a couple of runs for me, so I was able to pitch well.”

The win halts a two-game skid for Rakuten, which improved to 8-5 with the victory.

“The season is long,” Iwakuma said. “So we have to keep keep winning games. I just hope I can pitch the way I did today.”

Showing the form that made him a 21-game winner last season, Iwakuma threw eight shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out five.

He gave up his third hit of the game to lead off the second inning. Then he retired the next 21 batters he faced. Iwakuma (2-1) allowed just three balls to escape the infield, recording 19 groundball outs in a surgically efficient day on the hill.

“I was able to pitch low,” Iwakuma said. “Tokyo Dome is an easy place to hit home runs, so I always try to keep the ball low in the strike zone.”

The Buffaloes entered the game tied with the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons with an NPB-high 18 home runs this season, but didn’t muster even a single flyball against the reigning Pacific League MVP.

“I didn’t know that,” Iwakuma said when informed he didn’t give up a flyball. “My team scored in the first inning and I was able to pitch my game from there.”

Iwakuma’s last outing at Tokyo Dome came last month as a member of Samurai Japan during the World Baseball Classic.

He was effective then as well, allowing a run on two hits and striking out five, but didn’t receive any run support in a 1-0 loss to South Korea.

“It was easy to pitch here,” Iwakuma said. “The mound felt good and I was able to pitch well.”

Kusano was the pace-setter at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs in the win. Kusano has been used sparingly this season. Saturday was just his fifth game, but has been effective when in the lineup, batting .647 in 17 at-bats. He has had two or more hits in three of his last four games.

Buffaloes righty Kazuki Kondo (2-1) was effective early on, but was overshadowed by Iwakuma. He was charged with the loss after allowing four runs on six hits and striking out two in 7 1/3 innings.

Norihiro Nakamura got the Eagles on the board with an RBI single in the bottom of the first that scored Teppei Tsuchiya from second.

Takeshi Yamasaki drew a two-out walk in the sixth and Kusano followed with a two-run shot that made the score 3-0.

The Eagles broke the game open in the eighth, getting a pair of base runners courtesy of one-out singles from Yamasaki and Kusano. Akihisa Makida and Toshiya Nakashima each followed with RBI singles to make the score 5-0. Naoto Watanabe pushed the lead to 7-0 with a two-run double to cap the big inning.

Kokubo lifts Hawks

CHIBA (Kyodo) Hiroki Kokubo broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run single in the top of the ninth inning and Yuya Hasegawa finished 4-for-5 with four RBIs as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks defeated the Chiba Lotte Marines 7-4 in Pacific League action on Saturday and ended the hosts’ winning streak at three games.

Fighters 6, Lions 4

At Seibu Dome, Tomochika Tsuboi hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in a two-run eighth as Hokkaido Nippon Ham rallied to beat Seibu for its fourth straight victory.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Tigers 9, BayStars 4

At Yokohama Stadium, Atsushi Nomi pitched six scoreless innings to set the pace and Hanshin erupted against the hosts with a four-run eighth en route to its first three-game winning streak this season.

Takahiro Arai hit a solo homer off Ryan Glynn (0-3) to open the scoring in the fourth and Kentaro Sekimoto, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, had a two-run single for a 3-0 lead in the next inning.

Giants 3, Dragons 2

At Nagoya Dome, Takayuki Terauchi had a tiebreaking solo homer in the eighth inning as Yomiuri rallied to beat Chunichi.

After Chunichi took a 2-0 lead through the sixth on Tony Blanco’s RBI single and a solo drive by Masahiko Morino, Edgardo Alfonzo and Hayato Sakamoto had consecutive RBI hits to tie it in the seventh before Terauchi hit his first career homer.

Swallows 1, Carp 0

At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Yoshinori Sato combined with four relievers on a three-hit shutout as Yakult edged Hiroshima for its third straight win.

Sato (2-1) allowed two hits, walked two and struck out five over five-plus innings.