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Friday, July 31, 2009

Dragons bounce back; Kawai's streak alive


Staff writer

The Chunichi Dragons couldn't hold on to their own winning streak, but Masaaki Koike saved one for Yudai Kawai.

News photo
Still unbeaten: Dragons southpaw Yudai Kawai improves to 11-0 by pitching seven solid innings on Thursday against the Giants at Tokyo Dome. Chunichi defeated Yomiuri 5-3. KYODO PHOTO

Koike hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning, and insurance runs from Masahiko Morino and Tony Blanco helped Kawai maintain his winning ways in a 5-3 victory over the Yomiuri Giants on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.

One day after the Dragons had their nine-game winning streak halted in an 11-1 thumping, Kawai threw seven effective innings, allowing three runs and striking out four, to preserve his personal streak of victories.

The win looked to be in jeopardy after catcher Shinnosuke Abe gave the Giants a two-run lead with a bases-loaded single in the fourth. But the Dragons offense fought back, putting Kawai in line for the victory.

"I was a little worried when I gave up those two runs, but kept pitching my game," Kawai said. "The hitters came through and scored some runs for me, so I got back my confidence and could pitch effectively."

Kawai has now won 11 straight decisions, including wins in his last eight starts, to improve to 11-0 in 14 games this season. He lowered his ERA to 2.83 and aided his own cause with a hit.

The win helped the Dragons move within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Giants in the Central League standings.

"The second half of the season has just started," Kawai said. "So there is plenty of time for us to catch and pass the Giants."

Every member of the Dragons' starting lineup reached base safely, with all but Motonobu Tanishige recording a hit. Tanishige got on base by drawing a walk in the seventh. Pinch hitter Nobumasa Fukuda also had a hit, a double down the left-field line.

"We played a good game," Blanco said. "It was a tight game. There was good pitching tonight. We had good luck, we got a couple of runs and that was the difference."

Abe and Alex Ramirez had productive nights for the Giants, who were beaten by Kawaii for the fourth time this season. Abe went 4-for-4 with a solo homer and three RBIs, while Ramirez finished 3-for-4.

Koike homered for the second time in the three-game series, after hitting one of Chunichi's four home runs in Tuesday's 5-3 win.

Giants starter Shun Tono was teetering on the brink of disaster for most of the game, walking four and hitting one in his five-plus innings. He gave up a single to lead off the sixth before Koike's homer sent him to the showers.

"Tono was just missing with a lot of his pitches tonight and that was the difference," Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said.

Tono gave up three runs on five hits and struck out six. Reliever Daisuke Ochi didn't fare much better, allowing two runs and walking two in one inning. Giants pitchers walked a total of 10 batters in the game.

Ramirez hit a one-out single in the fourth, then stole second before Yoshiyuki Kamei drew a walk to put runners on first and second. Yoshitomo Tani added a sharp liner up the middle, which was stopped by a diving play from Hirokazu Ibata to prevent a run from scoring. Ibata attempted to get the runner at second, but teammate Masahiro Araki couldn't handle the throw, leaving the bases loaded.

Abe fell behind 1-2 in the count before he lined his single up the middle past a diving Ibata to drive in the game's first two runs.

The Dragons cut the lead in half after an Araki double scored Ibata from first in the fifth.

Chunichi took the lead on Koike's homer in the sixth, and Morino and Blanco added RBI singles off Ochi to put Chunichi ahead 5-2.

"We're doing good," Blanco said. "He's (Morino) getting hot, I'm playing OK. We've got something like 50 games left, so we have to keep playing."

Abe's homer made the score 5-3 but the Giants would get no closer after that as closer Hitoki Iwase shut the door with his CL-leading 30th save of the season to preserve the win.

Kubo blanks 'Stars

NISHINOMIYA , Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) Yasutomo Kubo struck out 12 in his first shutout in four years as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Yokohama BayStars 2-0 to complete a three-game sweep.

Kubo (5-4) allowed just two singles and hit a batter, facing two batters over the minimum. One runner was caught stealing.

Carp 8, Swallows 3

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Hawks 3, Buffaloes 1

At Fukuoka's Yahoo Dome, Munenori Kawasaki drove in all three runs as Fukuoka Softbank avoided a three-game sweep by Orix.

Fighters 7, Marines 6

At Chiba Marine Stadium, Shinya Tsuruoka doubled in the go-ahead run to cap a six-run eighth inning as PL leader Hokkaido Nippon Ham overcame an early 6-0 deficit for its eighth straight victory.



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