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Baseball: SoftBank Hawks win 4th straight Japan Series championship

The SoftBank Hawks celebrate after winning their fourth consecutive Japan Series title with a 4-1 victory over the Yomiuri Giants in Game 4 at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Nov. 25, 2020. (Kyodo)
Yuki Yanagita of the SoftBank Hawks hits a two-run home run in the first inning in Game 4 of the Japan Series against the Yomiuri Giants at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Nov. 25, 2020. (Kyodo)
Takuya Kai of the SoftBank Hawks hits a two-run home run in the second inning in Game 4 of the Japan Series against the Yomiuri Giants at PayPay Dome in Fukuoka on Nov. 25, 2020. (Kyodo)

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) -- The SoftBank Hawks won their fourth straight Japan Series championship on Wednesday after sweeping the Yomiuri Giants for the second year in a row.

    Yuki Yanagita and Takuya Kai each hit two-run home runs in Game 4 at Fukuoka's PayPay Dome before the Hawks wrapped up the best-of-seven contest with a 4-1 victory and extended their postseason winning streak to 16 games.

    In addition to winning their 11th Japan Series title in franchise history, the Hawks have now won 12 straight Japan Series games and 16 straight Japan Series games at home.

    "I'm relieved and happy at the same time. It's great we were able to become the best in Japan in Fukuoka, our hometown," said Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo, who has led SoftBank to five Japan Series titles since taking the helm in 2015.

    "It was the first time in this series they had the lead," Kudo said. "But Yanagita hit a home run right away and that immediately changed the mood on the bench, the players' energy changed and created an atmosphere that enabled us to keep going."

    In stark contrast to Tuesday's near no-hitter, the Giants' bats came alive early on Wednesday night against Hawks veteran left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada.

    Akihiro Wakabayashi hit a leadoff double in the opening frame and Yomiuri captain Hayato Sakamoto followed with an RBI double to get the visitors on the board first.

    But Yanagita promptly turned it around in the bottom of the inning with a two-run go-ahead blast. The Hawks' slugging outfielder connected on the first pitch he saw from Giants right-hander Seishu Hatake and bombed a low forkball into the right field stands.

    "I had a chance and I was able to zero in on hitting from the first pitch," said Yanagita, who homered in the Japan Series for the third straight year.

    "Only two teams get to fight (for the championship), so I'm grateful to get to stand here and play."

    Kai extended the Hawks' lead to 4-1 in the second with a two-out, two-run blast -- the catcher's second long ball of the series -- before Hatake was pulled from the mound.

    "It's frustrating that I couldn't hold things down when we were ahead and had a good game going," Hatake said.

    Wada, who threw five scoreless innings and got the win in Game 4 of the 2019 series, tossed 48 pitches over his brief two innings, including a 14-pitch at-bat from Hiroyuki Nakajima at the end of the first.

    "I feel bad that I only pitched two innings when I was given the start in such an important game," Wada said.

    Giants reliever Shosei Togo took over in the third and retired seven of the eight batters he faced to prevent the hosts from doing further damage. Yuki Matsumoto replaced Wada in the third and struck out four over 2-2/3 innings for the win.

    From the fifth inning on, neither bullpen allowed a runner past first until SoftBank closer Yuito Mori yielded a walk and a single with one out in the ninth to provide the Giants with one final chance.

    With tensions mounting, Mori struck out Shunta Tanaka and got pinch-hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei to fly out to center before the Hawks' celebrations began.

    Game 1 hero Ryoya Kurihara was named MVP of the series for contributing seven hits and a home run.

    The Hawks became the second team to win the Japan Series for four straight years and the first since the Giants did it over a stretch of nine straight titles starting in 1965. They are the first team ever to win back-to-back Japan Series championships with 4-0 records.

    "Last year we won and aimed to become the best in Japan for the fourth straight year," Kudo said. "With that goal in mind, the beginning of the season was tough but we played hard, won, and won the league title, and that dream of four consecutive wins actually came true."

    The Pacific League champions captured their 21st league title this year, winning 73 games over the 120-game regular season interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic before cruising past the Lotte Marines in this year's modified Pacific League Climax Series.

    The Giants, who won the Central League pennant for the second straight year, were looking to win their first Japan Series title since 2012 and 23rd title overall. Yomiuri has lost nine straight Japan Series games dating back to their Game 7 defeat to the Rakuten Eagles in 2013.

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