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Hirano makes Lions endangered species

by Jason Coskrey

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Yoshihisa Hirano finally ended his personal losing streak. He may have also ended the Seibu Lions’ hopes of reaching the Pacific League Climax Series.

Tuffy Rhodes homered and Shinji Shimoyama broke a seventh-inning tie with an RBI single to back a solid start by Hirano in the Buffaloes’ 3-2 win on Saturday at Seibu Dome.

It was a critical contest for the Lions, who are struggling to stay in the race to reach the Pacific League Climax Series.

“It was a good game,” said Orix third baseman Jose Fernandez, who started the rally in the seventh. “Hirano pitched a heck of a game. (Takayuki) Kishi was keeping himself in the game too, but we came up big.”

Hirano (3-10) hadn’t won since May 31 (a six-hit shutout of the Yokohama BayStars) but still managed to outduel Seibu starter Kishi. He scattered six hits over eight innings, allowing two runs and striking out nine. Hirano had lost his previous nine decisions.

“He did a good job, a great job,” Rhodes said. “He’s been pitching like that the last four or five times and we finally got him a win. So that’s a good feeling.”

The Buffaloes trailed 2-1 entering the seventh when Fernandez got things going with a one-out double. Fernandez scored the tying run when the next batter, Takeshi Hidaka, lined an RBI double over the head of right fielder Shogo Akada.

“We were just trying to get something going,” Fernandez said. “He pitched me away and I went with it. I’m glad that led to the run that tied the game.”

A two-out RBI single by Shinji Shimoyama gave the Buffaloes the lead later in the inning.

Hirano returned to throw a scoreless eighth and Chihiro Kaneko worked the ninth to record his first save of the season.

The loss puts a dent in the Lions’ playoff hopes as they try to keep pace with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles for third place in the Pa League. Seibu entered the day three games behind the Eagles for the final spot in the Climax Series.

Kishi (12-3) gave up three runs on four hits with six strikeouts over seven innings in the loss. He started the game strong, holding Orix to one hit through six innings, before running into trouble in the seventh.

“The last time I faced Orix I pitched eight innings,” Kishi said. “I was just trying to pitch my game and not make any mistakes. I’m sorry that I couldn’t hold the lead.”

Kishi, who lost at Seibu Dome for the first time this season, had been 4-0 against the Buffaloes.

“He has pitched well against us this season,” Orix manager Daijiro Oishi said.

Kishi missed on his first pitch of the second, a fastball, and paid the price when Tuffy Rhodes sent it flying into the stands for his 20th home run of the season.

Seibu’s Takumi Kuriyama got things going with a double in the third and scored the tying run on an RBI single off the bat of Hiroyuki Nakajima. The defending Japan Series Champions went ahead in the third on a homer by G.G. Sato that made the score 2-1.

Seibu will try to get its playoff bid back to track Sunday, sending Ryoma Nogami (3-5) to the hill against Satoshi Komatsu (1-9). The game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Fighters lose again

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Saburo Omura went 4-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs, Yuki Karakawa took a shutout into the eighth inning, and the Chiba Lotte Marines beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 4-2 on Saturday for their fourth straight victory.

Nippon Ham matched a season-worst six-game losing streak, but the second-place Softbank Hawks’ 6-5 loss to the surging Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles trimmed the Fighters’ magic number to 19 for clinching the Pacific League title.

Karakawa (5-6) allowed two runs and five hits in eight innings for his first win since May 19.

“I retired the first batter of each inning (through the seventh). I think that’s the main factor that got me the win,” Karakawa said. “As usual, I tried to keep the team in the game. There are not many games left in the season.”

Eagles 6, Hawks 5

At Yahoo Dome, Takeshi Yamasaki hit a pair of two-run homers to lead the offense as Rakuten continued its winning ways in a victory over Softbank.

CENTRAL LEAGUE

Dragons 4, Swallows 2

At Nagoya Dome, Kazuhiro Wada hit a two-run homer and Takashi Ogasawara carried a shutout into the seventh inning as Chunichi beat Yakult for its third win in a row.

Wada homered off Takehiko Oshimoto (1-6) in the fourth to extend Chunichi’s lead to 3-0. Tony Blanco added a sacrifice fly in the eighth to make it 4-2.

BayStars 4, Tigers 2

Giants at Carp — ppd.