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John E. Gibson

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Hot Rhodes powers struggling Buffs past Marines

by John E. Gibson (Apr 20, 2008)

As hot as Tuffy Rhodes is, the Orix Buffaloes are still lukewarm.

Rhodes homered twice on Saturday and had four RBIs as the Buffaloes trampled the Lotte Marines 9-3 in an Orix home game at Tokyo Dome.

Chihiro Kaneko, Orix's Opening Day starter, put together his fifth consecutive quality start, wiggling his way through seven innings to even his record at 2-2.

The 24-year-old right-hander allowed three runs--two earned--on eight hits, a walk and a hit batter, while fanning three.

But Rhodes, who also homered in Thursday's win over Fukuoka SoftBank, carried the Buffs with his fifth and sixth longballs this season, the second coming in a backbreaking six-run fifth inning that started with the score tied.

The victory made the Pacific League's last-place team 6-9 in April, and the limping Buffaloes could obviously use a few more games like this.

"Tuffy, for some reason, swings good here," said Orix skipper Terry Collins. "Maybe he sees the ball better here.

"He works at his trade--he works at being a good hitter."

Rhodes, a former Yomiuri Giant who now has 70 career homers at Tokyo Dome, said stadiums aside, he's in a groove.

"I like every ballpark, and I appreciate a home run in any ballpark. But when you're feeling good, it really doesn't matter where you play at. And I'm feeling good right now," the 39-year-old said.

His first homer got the Buffaloes even, and his second, a three-run shot, opened the flood gates.

"That's my job, to knock guys in with home runs or a hit," Rhodes said. "I try to get a hundred or more RBIs every year, and if it's home runs to knock them in, or if it's hits to knock them in, it's a great feeling."

The team would feel better if the wins started to come more often. Rhodes said the 10-14 Buffaloes have been disappointing so far.

"Right now our team is not playing well--and we have higher expectations," Rhodes said.

"I'm not saying we should be in first place, but we should be at least in A class."

Collins said the key to more victories is consistent production throughout the lineup.

"We cannot sit back and ride those three guys in the middle [of the order]," Collins said. "We've got to get these guys hitting; if we're going to win, it's going to be because our Japanese guys are starting to produce."

Nearly everyone produced off Marines starter Hiroyuki Kobayashi (1-3).

Six Buffaloes had RBIs, and Tomotaka Sakaguchi had three hits, while Alex Cabrera, Takeshi Hidaka and Keiji Obiki all had two hits each in the 13-hit attack.

In 4-1/3 innings, Kobayashi yielded a career-worst eight runs--seven earned--on 10 hits and two walks, while fanning five to see his personal four-game winning streak against Orix snapped.

The Buffaloes shelled him in the fifth inning, sending 11 men to the plate and scoring six runs.


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