The club was leading the league in runs scored and allowed and has been as streaky as they come. Their most recent six-game winning streak, their third of the season, included a three-game sweep of Fukuoka Daiei and propelled them into first place.
The Buffaloes had come knocking before, earlier in the season, after sweeping the Hawks in Fukuoka. But when the birds flew to Osaka for a three game set in the Buffaloes' dome, the Hawks kicked Buffalo butt and kept rolling.
So is the current Osaka heat wave just a passing phase for the only club that has never won a Japan Series title?
It says here that the Buffaloes have an outside chance at finally achieving bovine baseball glory.
Until very recently, this club had more holes than a community center in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido. But thanks to some smooth off-field moves, the Buffaloes have turned a couple of big holes into strengths.
A shaky starting rotation has been fortified with the addition of pitchers Sean Bergman and Jeremy Powell, while middle infielder Shawn Gilbert appears to be a defensive anchor in the middle of the diamond that they have so badly needed.
Gilbert showed some real pop with three homers in his first few games. One only hopes that his early performance will not raise expectations to a level he can't match.
"I'm not a power hitter," Gilbert said prior to Tuesday's game at Tokyo Dome against the Nippon Ham Fighters. "That's why I figured I'd never get a chance to play over here."
While it is true that Japanese teams tend to look at a foreign player's ability to drive the ball more than his defensive ability, it would have been dumb for the Buffaloes to pursue another power hitter if someone was available who could solidify the middle of the infield.
"Short and second has been a big problem for us," said outfielder Tuffy Rhodes. "(Shortstop Takashi) Muto is out and (second baseman Eiji) Mizuguchi just got hurt. And it's not just this year, it seems every year there's people getting hurt there and it never seems to get settled."
One team official described Gilbert as "an experienced, hard-nosed player--the kind of guy who gets hit by a pitch and brushes it off like it's a mosquito bite."
And toughness is something that you can never have enough of in a pennant race.
Gilbert, like Bergman and Powell, where recommended to the Buffaloes by their new consultant, Tommy Lasorda. And while some snickered at the announcement that Lasorda would be helping the Buffaloes, most Japanese organizations are consistently bad at matching a team's needs with it's foreign acquisitions. So if that is what Lasorda is doing for Kintetsu, it's a major step in the right direction.
Of course, the Buffaloes aren't a contending team just because of three guys. The core of the team has been solid with Rhodes, Norihiro Nakamura, Koichi Isobe and Yuji Yoshioka providing the horsepower in the middle of the lineup as they usually do.
And if Rhodes was happy to have Gilbert in the middle of the defense, he's just as pleased to have him batting second.
"They don't ask him to bunt," the Texan said. "I think it's a law in Japan. If the leadoff hitter gets on base, the next guy has to bunt him over. But now instead of a runner at second with one out, we've got a chance to have first and third with no outs and that takes a lot of pressure off me and Nori."
As usual, Gilbert arrived without bats and has been using Rhodes' while he waits for his lumber.
Asked if he minded Gilbert using his wood, Tuffy said, "He can use my jock strap if he keeps hitting the way he is."
While the Buffaloes had a talented lineup last season, this year has scene outfielder Kenji Kawaguchi take another step forward at the plate.
A former hot shot infielder, Kawaguchi ruined his shoulder in high school and now looks like the Buffaloes' DH of the future.
The left-handed swinger went 0-for-4 on Tuesday to lower his on base percentage to a still robust .446--second best on the team, behind Nakamura's PL-leading .458.
Although Kawaguchi has been sitting against left-handed starters, manager Masataka Nashida has been more than happy to make use of 26-year-old Fumitoshi Nakano and 28-year-old Hirotoshi Kitagawa. The two right-handed swingers have provided the Buffaloes with excellent production off the bench.
The Buffaloes pitching this season has been a chamber of horrors. The only constant so far this season has been big lefty Katsuhiko Maekawa. The graduate of Osaka's PL Gakuen High School racked up his 10th win on Monday, with six of them coming against the Seibu Lions.
He's really the ideal pitcher for this team. He's big and throws hard--so he can throw a little bit more than other hurlers with less risk of hurting his arm. And with the Kintetsu offense scoring runs, he has been able to hang on for his wins despite a lot of less than sterling starts.
Maekawa, who was PL pitcher of the month for April, has struggled since but won--he's now 10-6 with a 5.06 ERA.
Recently Maekawa has become "mentally tough." This is a baseball code word, not for a good pitcher, but for someone who is good at getting out of jams--because he frequently pitches himself into trouble in the first place.
After the 22-year-old southpaw beat the Fighters on Monday, manager Masataka Nashida had this to say: "A pitcher who refuses to be beaten is one who builds winning games." Implying that he was less concerned with the ERA than Maekawa's habit of winning.
Nippon Ham right-hander Scott Sanders is finally getting into the habit of winning and against one tough customer.
Sanders beat the Marines' Tomohiro "Johnny" Kuroki for his first win--and has handed the Chiba Lotte ace two of his three losses this season.
Sanders says things are turning around because he is pitching more regularly on six or seven days rather than on 10-12 days earlier on.
"On 10 days rest, you are too strong. You feel that you can do anything, and your upper body is at 120 percent but your lower half is at 80 percent because you haven't worked in a long time.
"On five days rest you are really tired, and you know you can't do too much but you can get in a groove."
The Hot Corner appears each Thursday in The
Daily Yomiuri .