Hawks sweep past Giants to 3rd straight Japan Series title

Yurisbel Gracial hit his third home run of the Japan Series as the SoftBank Hawks completed a four-game sweep of the Yomiuri Giants on Wednesday, wrapping up their third straight Japan championship with a 4-3 win.
The victory by the Pacific League's runners-up kept the Central League without a Japan Series champion since the Giants won it all in 2012.
"Last year, we finished second in the league before going on to win the Japan Series, and we managed to do that again," Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. "We could have done so much more this year. But as the season progressed, we reflected on our failures, persevered and pushed forward."
"But you know what, I really want to win the (PL) pennant. Still, we finished with 10 straight wins in the postseason, so that is some accomplishment."
Veteran lefty Tsuyoshi Wada gave SoftBank five solid innings, while series MVP Gracial opened the scoring with his third home run, a fourth-inning three-run shot off Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano.
With home plate umpire Takanori Yamamoto giving both pitchers a generous strike zone, called third strikes abounded and neither team looked like mounting a threat through the first three innings.
In the top of the fourth, singles by Kenta Imamiya and Alfredo Despaigne and a stolen base put runners on the corners with one out for Gracial.
The Cuban worked the count full after falling behind 0-2. Sugano missed in the heart of the zone with a slider, and although Gracial failed to make the best contact, he got enough to reach the seats in left center and cast a pall over the Giants' faithful.
"We had a lot of difficulties this season, but this team, these great teammates pulled together and got us here," Gracial said. "And I am so happy now."
"I want to thank the fans, who stuck with us and cheered us on through good and bad. Their support made this possible."
Having opted to use his bench and bullpen early in the first three games, Giants manager Tatsunori Hara left Sugano in to bat in the bottom of the fifth. The right-hander repaid his manager with a scoreless sixth, and the Giants made it a one-run game in the bottom of the inning.
After five scoreless innings from Wada, Robert Suarez brought his big fastball to the mound. With one out, Hayato Sakamoto drew his third straight walk, and Kazuma Okamoto, the CL Climax Series MVP, homered.
A single and a hit batsman put the tying run on second, but rookie Hiroshi Kaino got out of the inning, and the Hawks scored an insurance run in the top of the seventh with the help of two errors and two infield singles.
Sugano left with one out and the bases loaded, but southpaw Kota Nakagawa got a big double play to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Kaino, however, could not keep the Giants off the board in the seventh. One-out singles by pinch-hitter Shinnosuke Shigenobu and Yoshiyuki Kamei set the table, and Yoshihiro Maru doubled off lefty Livan Moinelo to trim the Hawks' lead.
Hawks slugger Despaigne, a designated hitter who rarely plays defense, fell down on Maru's fly but got up in time to play it off the wall and keep the tying run from scoring.
Moinelo retired the side in order in the eighth to move the Hawks within three outs of the series title.
Shinnosuke Abe, who is retiring at the end of the series after a stellar career, entered as a pinch-hitter in the sixth. He was hit by a pitch and grounded out in the eighth.
Hawks closer Yuito Mori, pitching in his fourth straight game, took the mound in the ninth in his first save opportunity of the series.
The right-hander needed nine pitches to retire Takumi Oshiro on a fly out. With a superb throw from deep in the hole at shortstop, Imamiya just beat the runner to first for the second out.
Kamei, who homered twice in Tuesday's Game 3 loss, fouled off two two-strike pitches before walking.
Sakamoto, who had struck out and drawn three walks, got a life from umpire Yamamoto, whose strike zone got considerably smaller from the eighth inning. He called a two-strike pitch over the outside edge a ball to extend the Giants' inning. But the Giants captain struck out to end it.
The Hawks had lost nine of their previous 10 Japan Series meetings with the Giants, with their only win coming in 1959, also in a four-game sweep.

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