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Fighters, Hawks flying high as Carp slump to new low

by Jason Coskrey

A few NPB teams have gone streaking over the past few weeks, putting on display results, both good and bad, that have made for some historical moments on the diamond.

These runs involve three teams, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and Hiroshima Carp, and two players, the Fighters’ Yu Darvish and Ryosuke Hirata of the Chunichi Dragons.

Among that group, the Fighters’ lengthy scoreless inning streak – which spanned parts of seven games — was the most impressive.

The Fighters began their run in the midst of a 4-0 loss to the Dragons on May 26.

Nippon Ham gave up an RBI single to Atsushi Fujii in the sixth inning of that game, then went on to throw 52 consecutive innings of shutout ball.

That matched a NPB record, which they now share with the 1942 Hanshin Tigers.

The Fighters were within two outs of establishing a new mark when Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Kazuhiro Hatakeyama lined an RBI single into center on Saturday to end the streak.

The team also tied a second record during their run, joining last season’s Dragons as the only clubs with five straight shutouts.

On the bright side, the Fighters can still concentrate on keeping Darvish’s own scoreless innings streak alive. Darvish hasn’t allowed a run in his last 35 innings.

Where the Fighters fell short of a record, the Carp got the job done. Well actually, their slice of history was gained by not getting the job done.

The Carp followed a two-run fourth inning against the Seibu Lions on May 26, with a historic run of futility that saw them go 50 consecutive innings without scoring a run.

Their struggles at the plate set a new NPB low and, probably to the delight of Swallows fans, erased the 1996 Yakult squad — which had a stretch of 49 straight scoreless frames that year — from the record books.

Mercifully, Hiroshima scored one inning after setting the record on Friday in a 6-3 loss to the Orix Buffaloes.

Perhaps showing that opposites really do attract, the Fighters and Carp contributed to each others’ run to the record book on May 28-29, when the Fighters shut out the Carp on back-to-back days.

The Hawks were enjoying a streak of their own as all that played out.

The PL leaders began the interleague schedule on a tear, going from May 17 to June 3 without losing a game.

Pacific League teams have always done well during the interleague portion of the schedule, but the Hawks took it to a whole new level, starting interleague play 10-0-2.

The Hawks are playing at a higher level than any team in Japan, entering Monday’s games the NPB’s best in batting average (.269) and ERA (2.15).

The 12-game unbeaten run would have put a stranglehold on the Pa. League, if not for the Fighters’ recent successes.

As it stands, the Hawks led the Fighters by three games after Sunday’s contests.

Hirata on Sunday made a bit of history of his own with a second straight walk-off home run, a short but nonetheless impressive feat. Hirata is just the eighth player in NPB history to end consecutive games with walk-off homers.

There are still a lot of games left to be played, but this convergence of streaky play has helped liven up the early part of the schedule a bit.