あと一球！… Japan Wins!!
Posted by simon c on 2009 March 25日 Wednesday
So, Japan repeated as WBC champions despite manager Hara’s bumbling lineup and in-game decisions. What was double play machine Johjima doing hitting cleanup? Korea ended up avoiding Norichika Aoki (the best hitter in Japan) to pitch against Joh in several occasions. And what was jetlagged Kurihara doing in DH? Thankfully he was pulled as soon as Bong left the game. Hara also played the game like it was a high school baseball game, automatically trying to bunt over any runner on base with no outs, even if the bunter rarely, if ever, bunts, like Nakajima, Inaba, and Johjima (well, the latter may be forgiven because of the GIDP possibilities 😛 ) and they are more of power hitters usually.
Then Hara left superb starter (and should have been tournament MVP, though Dice-K got that probably for marketing reasons) Hisashi Iwakuma in one inning too long even though Japan was loaded with bullpen options with fresh arms. Iwakuma got out of the 7th inning by giving getting 3 big fly outs to the outfield. Iwakuma is a groundball pitcher, so obviously by this point in the game his pitches were hanging high and he had barely any juice left in the tank, and it showed when he came back onto the mound in the 8th. Hara also could have gone with Sugiuchi in the 9th as he had also been super during the tournament, not allowing runs in any of his appearances, and Darvish can be shaky when he first gets into the game (like Matsuzaka) like during the loss to Korea in Round 2. But Darvish is often electric so he can’t be faulted on this.
So, Japan could’ve dominated (and it showed with all the runners LOB, Japan self-destructed time and again), but barely squeaked out the win. Maybe it was just all a ploy for Ichiro’s heroic game winning hit that drove in 2 runs? Ever the showman, everything was set up for Ichiro in the end 😛 (though the decision not to walk him with the 1st base open with 2 outs was puzzling, Ichiro kept on fouling off every pitch, even obvious balls, in typical Ichiro fashion until he got a pitch he liked, in the finals, he was zoned in. He wasn’t gonna be semi-intentionally walked.)
Anyways, I watched the game with friends including Deanna at a sports bar in the bustling Shinjuku district. The bar was absolutely full, some people were wearing suits obviously skipping work (though, probably the whole country was at a standstill, especially in the late innings) and some fans also had old school Daiei and Kintetsu (Nori Nakamura!) unis on, which was awesome. Here’s the video from the game winning moment when Darvish struck out the last Korean hitter.
PS This turned out to be a fantastic heart wrenching rubber match of a 5 game Japan-Korea series.. but if the organizers would just remove the meaningless seeding games at the end of rounds 1 and 2, this would’ve only have been the 3rd meeting between the teams, which would’ve been acceptable. Instead Japan played Korea 5 times, Cuba twice, and China and the US once in this World Baseball Classic. I’d like to see each team play a wider variety of opponents.