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Hara moved by third straight title

by Jason Coskrey

Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara almost got choked up after his club clinched the Central League pennant on Wednesday.

Hara would do well to keep the waterworks on hold. Because there might be a lot of winning left to do.

The Kyojin skipper is on course for a huge year that could make him the guest of honor at four different title celebrations in 2009.

Having already won the World Baseball Classic and CL titles, he could still add a Climax Series crown and Japan Series win to what has thus far been an outstanding year.

His most recent win, however, may be the one that stirs the most emotions.

Hara was a rookie infielder with the Giants when he won his first CL pennant, which the team clinched on Sept. 23, 1981. That day, he helped toss late Giants manager Motoshi Fujita into the air during a traditional doage celebration. Exactly 28 years later, it was his turn. Which nearly left Hara with tears in his eyes.

“I guess Fujita feels happy for me today,” he said.

Hara had to make a quick turnaround to reach this point, returning to the Giants in late March after leading Samurai Japan, which included Yomiuri players Michihiro Ogasawara, Yoshiyuki Kamei and Tetsuya Yamaguchi, to the WBC title.

“I entered this season with some concerns because of the WBC,” Hara said. “But the players showed more improvement than I expected. Every player individually developed enough to win the championship when we still have more than 10 games left.”

Winning the title makes Hara’s club the first since the famous V-9 Giants (1965-73), who won nine consecutive CL and Japan Series titles, to lay claim to three straight pennants.

“We have a great tradition that our predecessors have established,” Hara said. “I think we can get one step closer to that, but this is only part of the process. So we will move on.”

The Kyojin would already be closer to that tradition had they not fallen to the Seibu Lions in Game 7 of last season’s Japan Series.

“My players forgot about last year and came into this season with a new attitude to win another pennant,” Hara said. “We still have more to show, but overall this has been a very good pennant race.”