Japan Repeats in Baseball Thriller

by Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES, March 24 — One of Cuba’s television commentators announcing the Japan-Korea championship World Baseball Classic game on Monday said he thought it would be a good idea if local TV broadcast the Japanese League games so the island’s players and fans could familiarize themselves with their style of baseball.

The statement came after Japan had knocked Cuba out of the WBC with 6-0 and 5-0 shutouts and only hours before it would defeat its Asian rival Korea, 5-3 in 10 innings to repeat as the WBC champ.

In a Deja vu of 2006, right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after going 3-0, identical to the previous Classic.

The final proved a tense game as expected between the two teams that have led international baseball in the over the last three years.

While Japan managed 15 hits to Korea’s five, the losers stayed in the game throughout and managed to erase a 3-1 Japanese lead with a run in the eighth off starter Iwakuma (7.2 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 6 strikeouts) and another in the ninth off fireball thrower Yu Darvish, who was the winning pitcher after Japan’s extra inning rally.

Japan’s right-fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, a star of the US Major Leagues for many seasons, had a poor Classic at the plate but manager Tatsunori Hara kept him as the lead off batter throughout. The decision paid off as he finally came to life in the final games.

Suzuki had four hits in six at-bats on Monday and drove in the two winning runs with a single in the 10th inning off Korean reliever Chang Yong Lim.

The two teams met five times in the second World Baseball Classic with the Japanese winning it all with the tie-breaker.

“I believe we are the best two teams in the world,” Korea’s starting pitcher told MLB writer Barry M. Bloom on Monday night. And there aren’t many detractors to that statement.

Back in Cuba, baseball authorities promised a thorough evaluation of what’s needed to return to the top, something the Cuban team has been accustomed to for decades.

And as the sports commentator stated, taking a good look at how the Japanese do it may provide some of the secrets.

For more on Cuba’s participation in the WBC and greater insight about the tournament, see Peter C. Bjarkman’s Havana Times WBC diary at: http://havanatimes.org/?p=5062