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Murata’s homer sparks Japan, raises slugger’s confidence

by Kaz Nagatsuka

He was “the man” — as he is called in Yokohama — and wiped away his doubters’ question marks about him.

Yes, indeed, it was a good start for Shuichi Murata in the opening game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The BayStars’ home run king, didn’t crush the ball, but still managed to scoop a fork ball of China starter Li Chenhao, making enough contact for the ball to reach the left-field stands.

The pivotal hit came on a 3-2 pitch with a runner on base in the third inning.

“I was caught off-balance but still able to hit it nicely,” Murata said after Japan’s 4-0 victory on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.

That dinger certainly gave a boost to Samurai Japan, who had failed to score in the previous two innings.

In fact, Japan ended up with a disappointing total of only five hits.

One of the reasons that Murata, a third baseman, is called “the man” may be because of his calm attitude at the plate and elsewhere on the field.

In the WBC opener, it wasn’t different for him to put on prestigious Japan jersey. But his mood certainly changed since the last time he wore it in an international contest.

But thinking back to the start of the game, he admitted there was anticipation. In the first frame, Murata hit a long foul ball, which landed to the left of the left-field foul pole before he flied out to right field.

“I could hit the foul in a better way,” said Murata, who batted in the No. 5 spot in the lineup. “I was caught off-balance and still hit (the homer). . . That gave me confidence that I can hit in this WBC.”

When he spoke about his confidence, those words came from the bottom of his heart.

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, experienced something that could destroy any ballplayer’s confidence and was disheartening, too: an awful batting slump.

He went 2-for-23 with no RBIs and no home runs, doing little to help his club, which had a disastrous fourth-place finish, along the way.

“I experienced the international stage in Beijing, too, but I only had bitter memories,” Murata recalled. “I disturbed my own batting and even fielding. But still I was selected this time, that is because, I think, I was chosen for what I did in the season.

“So I’m trying to carry out my own style.”

Murata, who made a splendid defensive play at the hot corner during Thursday’s game, is a well-known power hitter. He won consecutive Central League home run titles in 2007 and ’08, becoming the first Japanese hitter in the CL to do so since Hiromitsu Ochiai, the (current Chunichi Dragons manager, accomplished the feat in 1990 and ’91.

“I have a bitter tenacity for hitting homers more than others,” said Murata, who had a .323 batting average with 46 homers and 114 RBIs last season. “I’d certainly like to hit them in the international games.”

After all, Thursday’s homer, gave Murata a mental boost as he prepares for Saturday’s game against the winner of Friday night’s South Korea-Taiwan game.

“Like today, I was caught off-balance and can still hit it. If I hit it more properly, I should be able to hit more.”

While Team Japan has a loft goal — aiming to win back-to-back WBC championships — Murata has his own personal goal to demonstrate that he can excel on the international stage as well as in the NPB.

“I wanted to win in Beijing, and now I want to win even more,” Murata concluded.