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Japan defeats Cuba to win first World Baseball Classic

by Stephen Ellsesser

SAN DIEGO — So much for history. Well, for reliving it anyway.

News photo
Team Japan’s Akinori Otsuka (right) celebrates with catcher Tomoya Satozaki after beating Cuba 10-6 to win the inaugural World Baseball Classic in San Diego.

Team Japan’s mind was in the present, and it rose to the occasion, beating Cuba 10-6 for the World Baseball Classic championship on Monday night at Petco Park.

Cuba had won 33 of 37 games against Japan all-time, but a four-run first inning and a dominant start by Daisuke Matsuzaka (3-0) were enough to rewrite history in front of 42,696 fans.

Matsuzaka, who struck out five and gave up four hits in four innings, was named WBC Most Valuable Player.

Matsuzaka allowed just two earned runs in 13 innings during the WBC, striking out 10 batters and walking only three.

The pressure was on, but Matsuzaka kept the surging Cubans rolled up.

“It was my first experience to pitch in a game with the world championship on the line,” Matsuzaka said. “I didn’t feel much pressure when I got on the mound.”

Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was as thrilled as Matsuzaka with the victory.

“We needed a good event to decide the world’s best, and I think the WBC was meaningful for that purpose,” said Ichiro. “This decides the true world champion, so that’s why I wanted to be a part of it.”

On a festive night, Cuban and Japanese fans danced to “Surf City,” waved flags and banged cowbells.

Team Japan manager Sadaharu Oh escorted Major League Baseball home run king Hank Aaron onto the field for the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game.

Oh and the players were soaked to the bone from the 70-plus bottles of champagne in the team clubhouse following the win.

In Japan, euphoric fans sang “We are the Champions” and jumped up and down in joy at news of the victory.

“This is history,” said Kiyotaka Itai, a 41-year-old trainee acupuncturist, at a sports bar in central Tokyo. “Who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but at least we in Japan got this very special day.”

Fans crowded other sports bars across the nation to watch the live broadcast of the game.

News photo
Daisuke Matsuzaka fires a pitch against Cuba during the final of the WBC in
San Diego; Manager Sadaharu Oh is thrown up into the air by his players after defeating Cuba.
News photo

Prior to the game in San Diego, the city’s symphony orchestra played the national anthems of Japan, Cuba and the United States. The Japanese players bowed after their anthem was played and then it was time to play ball.

Matsuzaka had a lead before he made his first pitch.

Team Japan did a number on Cuban pitching right out of the gates, turning Cuban starter Ormari Romero’s California dreams into nightmares before he could blink.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled with one out, later stealing second before Ichiro walked.

Nobuhiko Matsunaka hit an infield single to load the bases, closing out Romero’s short night.

Romero (2-1) had been dominant in the WBC. He had given up just a run in 8 1/3 innings in two starts, but he showed none of it against the Japanese.

Vicyohandry Odelin, who succeeded Romero, hit the first batter he faced, giving Hitoshi Tamura the most painful RBI of the night.

Odelin fanned hot hitter Tomoya Satozaki for the second out before walking Michihiro Ogasawara to bring in the second run.

Toshiaki Imae forced another first-inning bullpen call, singling to center field off an Odelin slider to plate two more runs.

Norichika Aoki, the No. 9 hitter, grounded out to end the inning, but Japan’s tap dance to the WBC title had already begun.

Team Cuba leadoff hitter Eduardo Paret homered in the bottom of the first, but it was all downhill from there against Matsuzaka.

But once Matsuzaka checked out, Cuba started heading uphill again, much faster than Oh would have expected against Shunsuke Watanabe.

Watanabe had a 1-2-3 fifth inning, but a defensive breakdown let Cuba back into the game an inning later.

Kawasaki couldn’t handle a Yulieski Gourriel grounder, and after Ariel Borrero singled, it was runners at first and second with one out.

Cuban WBC hero Frederich Cepeda doubled in Gourriel, and one batter later, Osmani Urrutia singled in Borrero, but the Japanese still held a 6-3 advantage.

Japan had added two runs in the top of the fifth, as Ichiro and Matsunaka doubled and singled to begin the inning, Ichiro’s on a Tamura single.

Satozaki laid down a sacrifice to advance the runners, and Ogasawara flied out to left field to plate Matsunaka.

Cuba failed to take advantage of two more Japanese errors in the seventh, as Watanabe pitched his way out of trouble, but when he gave up a leadoff single to Gourriel in the eighth, Oh had seen enough.

Soichi Fujita came in to face left-handed batter Borrero, who flied out to left, bringing Cepeda back to the plate.

Behind in the count, Cepeda took a 1-2 Fujita pitch into the left-field stands, closing the gap even more.

Akinori Otsuka came on to finish the eighth, retiring Urrutia and Yoandri Garlobo in order.

Clinging to a one-run lead heading into the ninth, Team Japan went ahead and put the game out of reach, tacking on another four-run inning to close out the game.

Tatsuhiko Kinjo reached on an error, and Kawasaki forced him out by hitting into a fielder’s choice.

Nishioka’s infield single gave Ichiro two of Japan’s fastest runners with the green light on, and he took advantage, knocking an RBI single to right field.

Cuba walked Matsunaka intentionally to load the bases, and Kosuke Fukudome came on to pinch hit for Tamura. Fukudome, who had a pinch-hit homer in Saturday’s win over South Korea, singled to right field, scoring Nishioka and Ichiro.

Matsunaka later scored on another Ogasawara sacrifice fly.

Ariel Pestano led off the bottom of the ninth with a double for Cuba, later scoring on Paret’s RBI single.

Otsuka, who earned the save, crushed Cuban hopes immediately, striking out Michel Enriquez and Gourriel to seal Japan’s world championship.

Matsunaka was 3-for-4, while Nishioka and Ichiro each had two hits.

Cepeda, who drove in three of Cuba’s runs, Urrutia and Paret were the only Cubans with multiple hits.

Team Cuba struck out nine times Monday.

Six of the 12 players on the WBC All-Tournament team suited up Monday. No-brainers were Matsuzaka, Ichiro and Satozaki, who hit .409 for the WBC, leading the way for Team Japan.

Cuba’s Yadel Marti, Gourriel and Garlobo also made the team.

Other selections included South Korea’s Lee Seung Yeop, Lee Jong Beom and Park Chan Ho. Filling out the ranks were Dominican Adrian Beltre and Americans Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter.

Information from AP added

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