FUKUOKA – The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks captured their second straight league Pacific League pennant on Thursday and the 19th in franchise history after a 5-3 win over the Seibu Lions.
Under rookie skipper Kimiyasu Kudo, the Hawks cruised to the finish line, clinching the pennant with 16 games to spare. The pennant victory is the fastest in PL history. The Nankai Hawks (now Softbank) did it on Sept. 19, 1964 and Orix on the same day in 1995.
This is a far cry from last season, when a disastrous September meant the Hawks couldn’tclinch until beating the Orix Buffaloes in 10 innings in their final regular-season game.
The 52-year-old Kudo is the first manager to win the title in his first year as skipper since Hideki Kuriyama did it with Nippon Ham Fighters in 2012.
“I am so happy to win the pennant in Fukuoka. I am relieved,” Kudo said. “The players have done so well. The players encouraged me and their words gave me courage.
“I thought I’d like to give something back to Fukuoka one day. Nothing makes me happier.”
The Hawks will begin their quest for a second straight Japan Series championship in the PL Climax Series’ second stage at Yafuoku Dome on Oct. 14 against the first-stage winner. The second stage is a six-game series, in which the league champs begin with an automatic one-win advantage and can advance to the Japan Series if the playoff stage ends in a tie.
Seiichi Uchikawa gave Softbank a 1-0 lead in the first inning, singling off Kona Takahashi to send home Akira Nakamura.
In the bottom of the fourth, Nobuhiro Matsuda hit his 34th homer of the season before Yuya Hasegawa followed up with a solo shot of his own to make it 3-0.
Yuji Onizaki had an RBI single to pull one back for the Lions in the fifth, but the Hawks pulled ahead 5-1 in the sixth on a fielder’s choice — when Onizaki threw the ball into center while trying to get the out at second — and Kenji Akaishi’s sac fly.
Takeya Nakamura drove in two runs for Seibu in the eighth, but Softbank would not relinquish its lead. Shota Takeda (12-5) tossed seven innings of one-run ball for the win and Dennis Sarfate recorded his 38th save of the season.
The Hawks franchise began playing in 1938’s autumn season under the sponsorship of the Osaka-based Nankai Railway Co., which won Japan Baseball Federation titles in 1946 and 1948.
A founding member of the PL, the Hawks won two Japan Series championships and 10 league titles under Nankai, the last in 1973. The Hawks were sold in 1988 to supermarket owner Daiei, which moved the club to Fukuoka and won three league titles and two Japan Series before selling them to telecommunications giant Softbank after the 2004 season.
The Hawks won the PL in 2010, 2011 and 2014 — and took home the Japan Series championship the last two times under former skipper Koji Akiyama.
Fighters at Marines — ppd.
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