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Fighters earn playoff spot after NPB nixes makeup games

Japanese professional baseball officials decided Monday not to play any makeup games for the 12 games canceled by the players’ strike staged on Sept. 18-19.

News photoTriple Crown winner Nobuhiko Matsunaka

The executive committee of the Nippon Professional Baseball organization made the decision four days after management and the players association reached an agreement to end a dispute over the realignment of ballclubs.

As a result, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were assured of a third-place finish in the Pacific League and won the third and final spot in the playoffs, which begin Friday.

Nippon Ham has a 66-65 record with two ties and has a half-game advantage over the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are 65-65 with three ties.

The Fukuoka Daiei Hawks have been guaranteed first place and will play the second stage of the playoffs against the winner of the first stage to be contested between the second-place Seibu Lions and Nippon Ham.

Matsunaka bags crown

Fukuoka Daiei Hawks infielder Nobuhiko Matsunaka became the seventh Triple Crown winner in Japanese baseball and first in 18 years Monday as he finished the Pacific League season at the top of the three major batting categories.

Matsunaka led the PL with a .358 average, 44 homers and 120 RBIs and is the first player to win these three titles since Randy Bass and Hiromitsu Ochiai accomplished the feat in 1986 for the Hanshin Tigers and Lotte Orions respectively.

Ochiai also won the Triple Crown in 1982 and 1985 for Lotte, while Bass did it in 1985 for Hanshin. The others are Haruyasu Nakajima (1938, Tokyo Giants), Katsuya Nomura (1965, Nankai Hawks), Sadaharu Oh (1973 and 1974, Yomiuri Giants) and Boomer Wells (1984, Hankyu Braves).

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters infielder Fernando Seguignol matched Matsunaka with 44 homers for his first title in Japan.

Kintetsu era ends with a loss

KOBE (Kyodo) Ryota Aikawa homered twice Monday as the Orix BlueWave beat the Kintetsu Buffaloes 7-2 in the final regular-season game of the Pacific League.

In a meeting between the merger partners who will become the Orix Buffaloes next year, Aikawa hit a two-run shot off Hisashi Iwakuma in the second inning and added a solo homer off Kenta Abe in a four-run fourth that also featured a three-run homer by Ryutaro Tsuji.

South Korean southpaw Koo Dae Sung (6-10) earned the win after allowing two runs and seven hits in six innings at Yahoo BB Stadium.

Abe (0-1), who replaced starter Iwakuma in the second inning, took the loss after giving up four runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Iwakuma finished the regular season with a 15-2 record and won the titles of most wins and winning percentage.