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Houlton, Kokubo sink Fighters

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Houlton, Kokubo sink Fighters

by John E. Gibson (Apr 23, 2009)

D.J. Houlton put together his third straight quality start and Hiroki Kokubo put a good swing on a misplaced slider.

The result was a 3-2 comeback victory for the fledgling Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Wednesday before 19,138 at Tokyo Dome.

Houlton, who has allowed two runs or fewer over at least six innings in all three starts this season, gave up both runs on a second-inning homer but from there on in kept the Fighters scoreless until leaving after seven innings.

The second-year right-hander, who scattered five hits and a walk while fanning five, said he has found a comfort zone in Japan.

"I'm definitely getting used to things this year," said Houlton, whose only mistake was a 3-2 fastball to Luis Jimenez. The Nippon Ham slugger smacked it out for a two-run homer, but Houlton shut down the Pacific League's top offense, holding it to fewer than three runs for just the second time in 16 games.

"I shook off my catcher--he wanted another changeup, but I got a little greedy and wanted to throw a fastball by him," Houlton said. "But I had my changeup working today so it was good for the lefties--there's like four or five really good lefties in that lineup so I had to be really careful with them."

Yoshinori Tateyama (1-1) wasn't careful with Kokubo, who took a slider deep to left-center field with a man aboard in the eighth inning as the Hawks came back to make Houlton (2-0) the winner.

"It was a one-run game and I just wanted to get the runner to second," said Kokubo, who hit his third longball. "The pitch just came in a good spot."

The Hawks, who finished last a year ago, were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position but still pulled out a win that got them back to .500.

"We know it's possible to go from last to first, so we just have to work hard every day," Kokubo said. "The season has just started, so we'll take it a game at a time."

The Fighters had time to mount a comeback, and they came within a few steps of tying the score in the bottom of the eighth.

Atsunori Inaba singled to right with Kensuke Tanaka on second, but Hiroshi Shibahara's throw was in plenty of time to nail Tanaka at the plate.

Tomoya Yagi, who won the pennant-clinching playoff game against SoftBank in 2006 and Game 1 of the Japan Series against the Chunichi Dragons, got the start for Nippon Ham after three wins in as many games on the farm. He tossed six sharp innings, allowing only an unearned run on five hits and a walk with three strikeouts in his first appearance since Aug. 30.

Kokubo's home run, though, ruined his chances for his first win since Aug. 15, when he beat SoftBank.

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