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Japan's Tigers succumb to curse

Daiei Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh is triumphantly thrown into the air after the win.
Daiei Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh is triumphantly thrown into the air after the win.

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TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- The Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox and now Osaka's Hanshin Tigers -- it's been a tough postseason for baseball's cursed triumvirate.

Hanshin fell to the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks 6-2 Monday, losing the Japan Series in seven games and keeping alive talk of a "Kentucky Fried Curse."

Legend says Hanshin's troubles stem from winning its last title in 1985 during events during wild celebrations in Osaka.

And it's a tale like the long woes of Chicago and Boston ascribed to a billy goat and the trade of Babe Ruth.

After the title win in 1985, delirious Osaka residents celebrated by jumping into the city's filthy Dotonbori canal, taking a statue of the Colonel from a local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet with them.

The Man in White was never seen again, while Hanshin has been easy to find -- extra crispy and at the bottom of its league.

But anticipation this year about a Tigers championship has percolated since July when a divisional title became likely.

Tigers-mania was born in Kansai, as western Japan is known, but the team's success took the entire country by storm. Cabinet ministers, the central bank chief and even the prime minister expressed hopes Japan's economy would benefit from a title.

Sales of Hanshin goods soared, while the government cleaned up the Dotonbori and nervous KFC outlets brought statues of the founder inside to avoid a not so original recipe for disaster.

But despite trailing three games to two, the Hawks came back to win the final two games in Fukuoka.

Absent Giants

Tiger fans celebrate their team's Pacific League title last month. But there was no joy on Monday.
Tiger fans celebrate their team's Pacific League title last month. But there was no joy on Monday.

The Hawks, managed by baseball's home run king Sadaharu Oh, defeated Senichi Hoshino's Tigers in a series without the sport's usual dynasty, Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants.

The Giants have long overshadowed the Tigers and other teams, luring top players with huge salaries and the media spotlight.

But many ordinary Japanese facing a decade-long economic slump identify with the underdog Tigers, an anti-establishment symbol in a country where big companies, a long-time ruling party and elite call most of the shots.

Even companies jumped on the Tigers bandwagon.

Honda Motor introduced a car painted in Hanshin pinstripes, while Ricoh developed a special line of digital cameras.

Banks offered fixed deposit accounts with higher interest rates due to the Tigers success, while logo-labeled food and beverages became a staple of many Kansai diets.

But as with Chicago and Boston, fan and corporate commitment alone was unable to fend off defeat.

Hanshin's Hoshino, after his final game as team manager, thanked the Tigers fans and showed the calm of someone not worried about ghosts of the past.

"I can be proud of this result in my baseball career," he was quoted as saying. "Tonight I will sleep easy."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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