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Fukuoka Daiei Hawks outfielder Arihito Muramatsu, who became eligible for free agency this season, will not exercise his right and remain with the Pacific League team, club officials said Tuesday.

Muramatsu acted as Daiei’s leadoff man this season but was sidelined in August after breaking his right collarbone. He finished the season with a .324 average with 32 stolen bases.

He returned to the lineup in time for the Japan Series and helped the Hawks beat the Hanshin Tigers four games to three in the best-of-seven series which ended on Monday.

Yusuke Torigoe, Noriyoshi Omichi, Shuji Yoshida and Masanori Taguchi have also decided not to declare free agency after holding talks with the team.

Daiei snares Mahara

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Fukuoka Daiei Hawks have reached an agreement to acquire right-hander Takahiro Mahara of Kyushu Kyoritsu University on a deal worth an estimated annual salary of 15 million yen with a signing bonus of 100 million yen plus performance incentives, baseball sources said Tuesday.

Mahara, who has a 150-kph fastball, is set to join the Hawks as a pre-draft pick, the sources said.

PL playoffs set

The Pacific League said Wednesday the first stage of the reintroduced playoff system will start Oct. 1 in announcing its schedule for the 2004 season that opens March 27 for all six teams.

According to the plan, teams that finish second and third in the regular season will play each other in a best-of-three series from Oct. 1 and the winner will face the league’s top finisher in the best-of-five playoffs, which start Oct. 6.

PL board members agreed to reintroduce the playoff system, which was in effect from 1973-1982, to decide the regular-season champions in an attempt to boost the popularity of its games.

Also, the Nippon Ham Fighters, which will move its base from Tokyo to Sapporo, will still host 12 games at Tokyo Dome while the Orix BlueWave will host two games there and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks one.

Ito calls it quits

Yakult Swallows right-hander Tomohito Ito has told club officials of his decision to retire as a player and will become a training coach for the Central League club, baseball sources said Wednesday.

Last year, the 32-year-old accepted a massive salary cut and opted to remain with the team for an 11th season after once being handed his release notice.

As the top draft pick for the Swallows in 1993, Ito posted seven wins with four complete game shutouts and was named the Rookie of the Year.

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