Japan takes world baseball title with win over Cuba
Mar 21, 2006, 10:32 GMT
San Diego, California - Sadaharu Oh was quite literally tossed from the game.
The manager was lifted from the ground and thrown into the air by his players to celebrate their title in the first World Baseball Classic after a 10-6 victory over Cuba.
Japan racked up most of its runs Monday night in the first and final inning, in which it scored four runs each, and secured the championship after winning only half of its games in the first two rounds of the 16-nation tournament, the first to ever feature the sport's best professional players from around the world.
'I thought I would never, never get a chance to manage a team like this,' Oh said.
Cuba had brought the game at San Diego's Petco Park to a nail-biting score of 6-5 by scoring two runs at the bottom of the eighth, but Japan did not buckle.
The first of its four runs in the ninth inning came with the help of Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners superstar, who singled to right, driving in a run and advancing Tsuyoshi Nishioka to third.
The bases were loaded after Nobuhiko Matsunaka was intentionally walked, and a single to left field by Kosuke Fukudome drove in Nishioka and Suzuki, bringing the score to 9-5.
Matsunaka capped Japan's scoring for the classic before a sell-out crowd of 42,700 when he was driven in from third on a sacrifice fly from Michihiro Ogasawara.
Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was named the tournament's most valuable player after he started for Japan, giving up one run and four hits in four innings and striking out five. For the tournament, he was 3-0 with two earned runs in 13 innings pitched.
Another star of the night was Ogasawara, who racked up three runs batted in. Hitoshi Tamura, Toshiaki Imae and Fukudome had two RBIs each.
Japan had the honour of kicking off and finishing the World Baseball Classic (WBC), styled as the World Cup of baseball, as Tokyo hosted the first games of the tournament, which began March 3. Japan routed China that day 18-2. Its subsequent run toward the title was less illustrious as it limped into the semifinals with a 3-3 record and only thanks to an unexpected loss to Mexico by the highly favoured US team.
Cuba's WBC record, on the other hand, was much better than Japan's, at 4-2 in the initial rounds, and it had beaten its opponent in 33 of the 37 international games they had played before, including the 1996 gold-medal game at the Atlanta Olympics.
But Japan came roaring into its final games, first with a 6-0 win in Saturday's semifinal over South Korea, which, until then, was the only team to have an undefeated record in the tournament. It was also sweet revenge for Japan, which had gone down to South Korea in both the first and second rounds.
Japan's players also did not waste any time in the final, jumping out to an early lead in the first inning.
With the bases loaded, Cuba brought on pitcher Vicyohandry Odelin to relieve starter Ormari Romero after 23 pitches, but Odelin promptly hit batter Tamura, sending him to first and putting the first run on the board.
Odelin struck out the next batter but walked his third, making the game 2-0. He next faced Imae, who singled to centre, drove in two runs and prompted Odelin's exit from the mound.
Cuba, which was nearly barred from the tournament because of politics, answered back quickly as its first batter of the game, Eduardo Paret, cracked a home run to left centre field, sending the scoreboard to 4-1.
But Japan extended its lead in the fifth. Its first batter of the inning, Suzuki, reached base on a double to left field and advanced to third on a single from Matsunaka. An infield single from Tamura then sent Suzuki home.
Matsunaka made the score 6-1 when he crossed home plate on a sacrifice fly from Ogasawara.
Cuba scored two runs of its own in the sixth when a double from Frederich Cepeda sent in Yulieski Gourriel from second and Osmani Urrutia made it 6-3 by driving in Ariel Borrero with a single.
Cuba set Japanese hands to wringing in the eighth when it closed in to 6-5, thanks to a home run from that also scored Gourriel, who had led off the inning with a single. <!-page-->
But Japan closed out its World Baseball Classic play by scoring as many runs in the ninth as it had in the first and icing its victory.
Cuba went through four hurlers in the final inning as Japan scored four runs on three hits.
Cuba, however, did not shrivel with the score at 10-5. Lead-off batter Ariel Pestano doubled to centre on the first pitch and scored thanks to an infield single from Eduardo Paret. But Akinori Otsuka struck out the final two batters and was mobbed at the mound by his ecstatic teammates for his trouble.
Cuba, which advanced to the final with a 3-1 win over the Dominican Republic, will likely have to wait four years for another run at the title as the WBC is planned as a quadrennial event.
'That's baseball,' Cepaeda said. 'There will be another championship, and we'll keep moving forward.'
It almost did not play in the first WBC. Because the tournament is a for-profit venture, the US government initially rejected Cuba's participation, citing its economic sanctions against the communist island, but that decision was eventually overturned.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur