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Japan barely wins in Olympic tuneup

by Jason Coskrey

The Japan national team did just enough to get a win on Friday night. It’ll probably take a lot more to bring home the gold in Beijing.

“Hoshino Japan” was held in check before taking the lead in a four-run fifth as manager Senichi Hoshino’s men defeated a select group of Pacific League stars 6-4 in front of 20,001 fans at Tokyo Dome.

Trailing 3-2, the national team led off the fifth with consecutive singles from Munenori Kawasaki, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Norichika Aoki, the latter two of the run-scoring variety, off Fukuoka Softbank’s Keisuke Katto to take a 4-3 advantage for the national side.

Takahiro Arai then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and G.G. Sato added an RBI double later in the inning to make the score 6-3.

The national team pitchers had an up and down start to their quest for the gold medal with six hurlers combining to give up 11 hits and four runs.

Starter Yu Darvish, who will likely toe the rubber in Japan’s opening game against Cuba, gave up a pair of runs on four hits and struck out three in three innings.

“The result was not good,” Darvish said. “I think I’ll be able to pitch well in the real thing. Please don’t worry about it.”

Darvish, Hideaki Wakui and Toshiya Sugiuchi each gave up runs while relief trio Kyuji Fujikawa, Hitoki Iwase and Koji Uehara, combined to work 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

Wakui, who loaded the bases in each of his two innings of work, picked up the win despite giving up a run on four hits and walking two.

Uehara, who had many questioning his selection after a stunning loss of form this season, worked a scoreless ninth to pick up the save.

Katto took the loss for the PL after giving up four runs on five hits in one inning.

Hoshino tinkered with his defensive lineup a bit in the later stages of the game, putting gold glove second baseman Masahiro Araki in right field. Araki didn’t see too much action in right, but did make a nifty grab in the ninth on a ball hit by Chiba Lotte’s Toshiaki Imae.

Fukuoka Softbank’s Nobuhiro Matsuda got things started for the Pa. League with an infield single and a stolen base in the second inning. He moved to third on a single by Yoshihito Ishii and scored when Orix’s Tomotaka Sakaguchi hit into a fielder’s choice.

Seibu’s Takumi Kuriyama led off the third with a double and scored on Hokkaido Nippon Ham second baseman Kensuke Tanaka’s sacrifice fly to make the score 2-0.

Tomoya Satozaki crushed the first pitch he saw in the third, hitting a towering home run to deep center that pulled the national team within a run, making the score 2-1.

“Hoshino Japan” tied the score in the fourth courtesy of an RBI single by Shinnosuke Abe.

The PL reclaimed the lead in the fifth on Matsuda’s sacrifice fly off Wakui before the national team stormed back in the bottom half of the inning.

Japan begins its Olympic campaign on Aug. 13 against Cuba. After facing the Cubans, the toughest tests the Japan should face in the preliminary round will come on Aug. 16 against South Korea and Aug. 20 against the United States.

The gold medal game is scheduled for Aug. 23.