If I'm not mistaken, this is still a record-setting interleague campaign for SoftBank, but with Nippon Ham matching the Hawks stride for stride, every game is magnified with only four games to go in the competition, all on the road.
SoftBank took one step closer to winning the competition, then took a step back over the weekend against the Yakult Swallows.
Masanori Ishikawa, making his first start at Yahoo! Dome in about three years, was rocked for four runs in the first inning of the third game between these two teams this season. It proved to be enough as Toshiya Sugiuchi had another spectacular start to give the Hawks a 4-1 win.
The duel of the lefties came down to who made the fewest mistakes, and both were fairly dominant. Ishikawa (4-3, 2.46) pitched very well after his tough first, which saw an RBI single from Uchikawa, and back-to-back home runs from Cabrera (6, two-run HR) and Ortiz (3).
Sugiuchi (W, 4-2, 1.44) didn't let a man past second base all game long, until the 7th inning when Wladimir Balintien hit a solo home run (15) to cut the lead to 4-1. That was one of only two hits that the Hawks pitching staff gave up on the day.
Not wanting to risk anything, Akiyama went to his bullpen, where Falkenborg worked around a hit batter to set up Mahara, who struck out a batter for his seventh save. SoftBank's win handed Yakult their first loss this season when Balentien hits a home run, which brings that mark to 7-1.
In the final game of the season between these two teams, Shohei Tateyama started against Tadashi Settsu, but Tateyama didn't last too long. It wasn't due to bad performance, it was his second hit batter of the game that did him in. In the fourth inning with two down, Tateyama hit Nobuhiro Matsuda in the head with a pitch, which is an automatic ejection regardless of intent (of which there was none).
Despite the first career ejection for the Yakult starter, SoftBank still couldn't get anything going against the Swallows bullpen, with the exception of the closer Lim Chang-yong.
Through six innings, the game was a dead heat, as Settsu was dueling with the Yakult bullpen, but the Swallows broke through in the 7th with an RBI triple from Atsushi Fujimoto and a sacrifice fly from Ryouji Aikawa. Against Takehito Kanazawa in the 9th, the visitors added one more thanks to an RBI double from veteran Shinya Miyamoto.
The only fight the Hawks put up against the Swallows closer in the ninth was a solo blast from Nobuhiko Matsunaka (3) to cut the lead to 3-1, but it wasn't enough.
SoftBank has the next two days off before they take on the Chunichi Dragons at Nagoya Dome, the start of a four-game road trip to close out interleague.