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Young gun Kondo fires Buffaloes past Lions

by Jim Allen (Mar 24, 2008)

Kazuki Kondo's second PL win was a long time coming, but the 25-year-old hopes it may be the start of something big. Kondo became the second young Buffaloes starter to stick it to the Lions in four days as Orix clipped Saitama Seibu 2-1 at Seibu Dome on Sunday.

"This win means more than the first," said Kondo, who won his debut start on Sept. 20, 2004. "That was at the end of the season, but this one is at the beginning, where what happens after matters."

Kondo allowed a run on four hits in six innings. Complementing a live fastball with a solid changeup and breaking ball, Kondo struck out four and walked one, although he did allow the Lions the first run.

In the second inning, G.G. Sato teed off on 1-2 fastball, giving him a home run in each of the three games here against Orix.

"It was his first at-bat and I wanted to go after him, but he was just better than I was," Kondo said. "I wanted to be bold, but I was probably overaggressive in that count."

His Orix batterymate, Takeshi Hidaka, tied it with a homer in the fifth, helping to spoil Matt Kinney's Japan debut. The right-hander allowed two runs in six innings as his fastball-changeup combination put all the Buffaloes batters in a funk, except Hidaka.

After Hidaka's homer, Kinney received a lesson in a fundamental dynamic of Japanese baseball: To stay in the strike zone is to invite marathon at-bats. Buffaloes leadoff man Tomotaka Sakaguchi fouled off six straight 3-2 pitches before driving the juiciest of a dozen deliveries against the fence in right center for a one-out triple.

Arihito Muramatsu then smashed a single through the drawn-in infield that put the Buffaloes on top. Sakaguchi, however, opened the door for Seibu in the bottom of the sixth. He dropped a liner in center to put the Lions leadoff man on. With one out and the runner at second, Kondo whiffed a throw that advanced the runner to third on a wild pitch, but he never scored.

"It was me who gave up the lead, and the guys had my back all that time," Kondo said. "It was an error, but I couldn't change that, so I just wanted to hold up my end."

With the club hurting for hurlers, Buffaloes boss Terry Collins brought in Kondo's relief after just 84 pitches, giving Orix the option of starting the youngster on short rest. The bullpen did the job, although it was touch and go in the eighth.

Right-hander Kazuya Motoyanagi and lefty Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara each allowed a hit in a scoreless inning, although Kikuchihara's was a nail biter that required him to strikeout cleanup man Craig Brazell to escape with two on and two outs.

Closer Daisuke Kato, however, overpowered the Lions in a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save. He also saved the Buffs' 2-1 Opening Day win for 25-year-old Chihiro Kaneko.

Having watched that game, and a strong start by 25-year-old Shinya Nakayama on Saturday, Kondo was not going to be the weak link.

In other PL games:

Hawks 4, Eagles 0: Rookie Shota Oba threw a shutout in his debut for host Fukuoka SoftBank as the Hawks completed a three-game sweep of Tohoku Rakuten.

Oba, who was named on six teams' first-round ballots in the second phase of the 2007 draft, allowed eight hits but no walks, while striking out six.

After coming from behind in each of their first two games, the Hawks broke a scoreless tie in the eighth. A single, a double and an error, by center fielder Teppei Tsuchiya, opened the scoring and Hitoshi Tamura broke it open with a two-run homer.

Marines 4, Fighters 1: Shunsuke Watanabe allowed a run in eight innings for the win in Sapporo as Chiba Lotte beat Hokkaido Nippon Ham, with 39-year-old lefty Koji Takagi saving a game for the first time since 1990, when he pitched for the Orix Braves.


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