Like their famous manager, the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks let their bats do the talking.
The Hawks won their first Pacific League pennant since 2000 on Tuesday when the Orix BlueWave defeated second-place Seibu 6-3 in Kobe to eliminate the Lions from the pennant race.
When news of the Orix victory arrived in the seventh inning, Daiei players exchanged high-fives in their dugout but had to wait until finishing off the Lotte Marines 13-10 to start the real celebrations.
At Chiba Marine Stadium, Lotte took a 6-3 lead after four innings, but Hiroshi Shibahara drove in a pair of runs with a single as the Hawks scored seven runs in the top of the sixth inning on their way to victory.
“Of all three championships this is the best,” said manager Sadaharu Oh. “Our players showed a lot of character today when they fought back from being down 6-3 and I’m happy for them and our fans.”
The Hawks’ win sent Oh’s team to the Oct. 18-26 Japan Series, where it will face the Central League champion Hanshin Tigers.
The Hawks had to be patient for their title. With a chance to clinch the pennant, the team lost twice to the last place Orix BlueWave before a 10-4 loss to the Kintetsu Buffaloes on Sunday at Fukuoka Dome.
“We wanted to do it at home but had to wait,” added Oh. “This is a strong team. When we beat Seibu three in a row just before the break and then went into the All-Star game in first place I had a feeling this team could win it all.”
Throughout the regular season, the Hawks relied on the booming bats of catcher Kenji Jojima and infielders Tadahito Iguchi and Nobuhiko Matsunaka.
The Hawks shrugged off the loss of team leader Hiroki Kokubo, who had 32 homers and 89 RBIs last season but sat out this season recovering from injuries.
Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Hawks led the league in team batting average (.297), runs scored (794), RBIs (768) and stolen bases (138).
Jojima, playing in his ninth season, took over in the absence of Kokubo and put up some monster numbers that will have major league scouts raving.
The 27-year-old backstop currently leads the league in hits (179) and RBIs (117) while posting a .335 batting average. His 32 homers are the most on the team.
For pitching, the Hawks got a career season out of 26-year-old right-hander Kazumi Saito, who leads the Pacific League with a 19-3 record and has an impressive 2.92 ERA.
After Saito, Oh got major contributions from a pair of rookies who came through like seasoned veterans.
Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, 22, is 13-5 with a 3.51 ERA, Nagisa Arakaki is 8-7 with a 3.34 ERA. Toshiya Sugiuchi, in only his second season, entered Tuesday’s game with a 10-8 record and a 3.11 ERA.
After losing closer Rodney Pedraza and his 21 saves to the Yomiuri Giants, the Hawks got solid performances from former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Matt Skrmetta, who notched 11 saves, and veteran Takayuki Shinohara, who has 10.
For Oh, who became manager in 1995, it will be another shot at a Japan Series title.
Oh led the team to the championship in 1999 when it defeated the Chunichi Dragons in five games. The team returned to postseason the next year but lost in six games to the Yomiuri Giants.
The 63-year-old Oh holds the career record for the most home runs with 868, 113 more than Hank Aaron, who has the most career home runs in major league history at 755.
BlueWave 6, Lions 3
At Kobe, Alex Cabrera hit his 50th homer of the season, a solo shot in the seventh inning, but it wasn’t enough for the Lions.
Yoshitomo Tani hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning off rookie Kenichi Toriyabe to give the BlueWave a win at Yahoo BB Stadium.
Orix starter Mac Suzuki picked up the win after holding the Lions to two runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings.
Buffaloes 6, Fighters 2
At Osaka, Hisashi Iwakuma gave up one run on six hits over eight innings as Kintetsu defeated Nippon Ham.
Dragons 9, Carp 0
At Hiroshima, veteran Masafumi Hirai tossed a two-hitter as Chunichi blanked the Carp.
Tigers 4, Swallows 3
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, left-hander Kei Igawa gave up three runs on six hits over six innings as the CL champion Hanshin edged Yakult.
Horiuchi gets 3 years
Tsuneo Horiuchi, who will replace Tatsunori Hara as the new manager of the Yomiuri Giants next season, agreed to a three-year contract with the Tokyo club on Tuesday, officials of the Central League club said.
The 55-year-old Horiuchi is scheduled to sign official papers after the season ends. The Giants, who have a day off Tuesday, have three games remaining in the 2003 season under Hara’s guidance.
Last week, Hara announced his resignation in his second year of a three-year deal citing the team’s dismal performance this season.
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