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Monday, Sep. 24, 2012

NPB NOTEBOOK

Race for Pacific League crown likely going down to wire


Staff writer

The Yomiuri Giants wrapped up the Central League pennant last week.

News photo
One giant leap: Toshiya Sugiuchi helped Yomiuri capture the CL pennant in his first year with the team. KYODO

Now the spotlight shifts to the Pacific League race, which is getting tighter by the day.

Entering this week, there are three teams — the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, Seibu Lions and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks — with realistic aspirations of winning the title.

The Fighters beat the Lions 6-2 on Sunday to take a 1½-game lead over Seibu at the top of the standings with the Hawks 3½ games further back.

With the number of remaining games dwindling, each team will need to make its push for the title quickly.

The Hawks open the week against the fourth-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Sendai on Monday, before two games with the last-place Orix Buffaloes beginning Tuesday.

The Hawks host the Eagles Saturday and the Fighters Sunday, then play road games against those teams Oct. 2 and 3. Softbank, which had its game against the Eagles rained out Sunday, finishes the year with a pair of games against Orix.

The Lions face the Eagles at Seibu Dome Sept. 25-27 then travel to face the Fighters Sept. 28-29, and end the month at home against Orix.

Seibu then has home games scheduled against the Chiba Lotte Marines Oct. 1-2; a road series with the Eagles Oct. 3-4; then ends the year with a home game against Lotte and a road tilt against Orix Oct. 7.

Seibu also has more games remaining (three) than both the Fighters and Hawks.

The Fighters, meanwhile, host the Marines for three games prior to the aforementioned series against the Lions.

The team then travels to Fukuoka to face the Hawks Sept 30, and meets Softbank again Oct. 3 in Sapporo.

Nippon Ham hosts the Eagles Oct. 5 before ending the season on Oct. 9 in Chiba.

That familiar feeling: For most of the Yomiuri Giants, it had been three years since they'd celebrated winning a pennant. A few of them experienced it for the first time on Friday, when the team clinched the Central League title.

That, however, wasn't the case for pitchers Toshiya Sugiuchi and D.J. Houlton. That duo has now won a title in three consecutive years.

Sugiuchi and Houlton helped the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks win the Pacific League pennant in 2010 and 2011, before moving to Yomiuri as free agents.

"This the best feeling," Sugiuchi told Nikkan Sports during the Giants' celebration Friday night. "I want to do my best to help win during the Climax Series. This is not the ultimate goal. There is more to achieve."

All together since 2009, Sugiuchi and Houlton are a combined 74-37 and have helped win three league titles, two interleague crowns and one, so far, Japan Series championship.

Letdown: The Yomiuri Giants captured the pennant Friday night and partied hard, emptying 3,000 bottles of beer in the process.

A day game the next day smelled like a recipe for disaster. It was, and the Giants were routed 9-3 by the Yakult Swallows the next day.

New low: The Hanshin Tigers fell 2-0 to the Chunichi Dragons at home on Saturday. That loss dropped Hanshin to 50-70-14 for the season, the first time in 11 seasons that the Tigers have been 20 games below .500.



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