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NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. — The Chiba Lotte Marines are on top of Japanese baseball for the first time in 31 years.

News photo
Chiba Lotte Marines players rush to the mound after beating the Hanshin Tigers 3-2 in Game 4 of the Japan series at Koshien Stadium.

Lotte wrapped up a Japan Series sweep, beating the Hanshin Tigers 3-2 in Wednesday’s Game 4 at Koshien Stadium.

Marines manager Bobby Valentine became the first foreign manager to win the Japan Series in Japanese baseball’s 70-year history.

Toshiaki Imae was named Japan Series Most Valuable Player. He was 10-for-15 in the series, going 0-for-3 in Wednesday’s win, the first in which Lotte didn’t score in double figures.

“No one loves to play the game of baseball like Imae,” Valentine said. “I’m just proud that I was his manager for the first two years of his career.”

Imae set a Japan Series record, getting hits in his first eight at-bats. He scored five runs and drove in another four.

“It was a great feeling,” Imae said. “It was amazing the way this team played. I just tried to relax through this whole series and play my game like I always do.”

Lee Seung Yeop supplied the offense in Game 4, blasting a two-run homer against Hanshin starter Naohisa Sugiyama in the second inning and driving in a third run on a double in the fourth.

Lotte’s Matt Franco doubled during the second inning, and after Imae popped out, Lee took a Sugiyama slider into the right-field bleachers, a strong shot that was a no-doubter from the instant it left the bat.

News photo
Lotte closer Masahide Kobayashi reacts after striking out Atsushi Fujimoto for the final out of Game 4 of the Japan Series at Koshien Stadium.

Lee, who didn’t start Tuesday, homered in three of four Japan Series games.

“I was happy that I was the one who was able to give the team the lead,” Lee said. “I am very happy indeed. But the game was not over yet, and we had to keep on fighting to the end.”

Franco scored his second run in the fourth inning with a walk after ending the third with a sliding catch that robbed Hanshin first baseman Andy Sheets of a hit.

Imae laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving Franco to second base, and Lee’s double easily drove in the run.

Lee had an extra-base hit in the sixth inning, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. He finished 3-for-4 in Game 4, needing only a triple to hit for the cycle.

Hanshin managed to keep the game close for the first time all series, but Lotte led the whole way after Lee’s home run.

Marines starter Dan Serafini lasted into the sixth inning, coming out after Sheets singled and Tomoaki Kanemoto walked. Shingo Ono relieved Serafini, giving up back-to-back singles to Makoto Imaoka and Shinjiro Hiyama, which allowed Hanshin to make the score 3-2.

News photoJapan Series MVP Toshiaki Imae pours beer over Lotte manager Bobby Valentine during celebration in Kobe.

Hanshin had other chances to score, but the Tigers hit into four double plays, including one in the bottom of the ninth against Lotte closer Masahide Kobayashi, who capitalized on his first Japan Series save opportunity.

Kobayashi walked Atsushi Kataoka on four straight pitches, but Akihiro Yano popped up a bad bunt that Imae caught. Imae threw to first base, doubling off pinch runner Teruyoshi Kuji.

Hanshin’s inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities in the first, third, fifth and ninth innings was somewhat symbolic of the offensive ineptitude the Central League champion displayed throughout the series. The Tigers had runners in scoring position in each of those innings, and they stranded runners in all but two innings.

Shunsuke Watanabe, who pitched a complete-game shutout for Lotte in Game 2, was named outstanding pitcher, and Lee (5-for-11, three home runs, six RBIs in Japan Series) and Saburo Omura (one HR, four RBIs in Japan Series) also were recognized for their play.

Yano (5-for-12) won the Fighting Spirit Award as the most outstanding player on the losing team.

The Marines will play against teams from South Korea, China and Taiwan, representing Japan at the Konami Cup next month at Tokyo Dome.

“We’ll try to represent Japan just like we tried to represent the Pacific League, by playing hard and trying to win,” Valentine said.

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