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Japan rules baseball world again

Beats S. Korea in 10-inning thriller to retain WBC crown

by Jason Coskrey

LOS ANGELES — Ichiro Suzuki was having the worst World Baseball Classic imaginable leading up to the WBC final.

He changed all that with one swing.

Ichiro broke a 10th-inning tie with a two-run single and Yu Darvish closed out the game as Japan won its second consecutive World Baseball Classic title with a 5-3 win over South Korea in front of a tournament-record crowd of 54,846 in Los Angeles on Monday night.

“We were tied at 3-3 and faced the 10th inning,” Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. “At the end, Ichiro hit the ball into center and we were able to score two runs. I believe that hit is something that I will never forget. It’s an image imprinted in my mind.”

Seiichi Uchikawa led off the top of the 10th with a single and Akinori Iwamura hit a two-out single later in the inning to set the stage for Ichiro against reliever Lim Chang Yong.

With first base open, after Iwamura advanced to second on defensive indifference, Lim challenged the MLB star rather than issuing a walk.

Down to his last strike, Ichiro fouled off several pitches before lining a single into center to put Japan ahead 5-3.

Ichiro finished 4-for-6 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs and said afterward he was not surprised Lim didn’t walk him.

“There was no surprise,” Ichiro said. “No. 2 (in the lineup) there is (Hiroyuki) Nakajima, and he is a batter you wanted to avoid. So there was a possibility for the bases to be loaded and I knew they would fight against that. So I wasn’t at all surprised.”

Yu Darvish, who blew the save in the ninth, closed out the game in the 10th to earn the win.

Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who went 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 14 2/3 innings in the WBC, was named the tournament’s MVP.

“I’m really thankful about the MVP,” Matsuzaka said. “I didn’t think that it was going to be me at all. I felt I was lucky and I felt that I couldn’t be compared to (Hisashi) Iwakuma-san, who pitched today. So I felt that Iwakuma would get the MVP.”

Iwakuma had another big performance on the mound, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out six with 97 pitches over 7 2/3 innings. He did not factor into the decision.

Iwakuma finished the WBC 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA allowing three runs on 12 hits with 15 strikeouts in 20 innings.

Iwakuma was relieved by Toshiya Sugiuchi, who entered the game in the eighth with the tying run on first and two outs. Sugiuchi retired Lee Yong Kyu to preserve the lead.

Darvish took over to start the ninth and struck out Lee Jin Young before walking the next two batters. He struck out Choo Shin Soo for the second out, but Lee Bum Ho tied the game with a single to left.

Starter Bong Jung Keun had another good night against Japan, but it wasn’t enough to pick up the win against Iwakuma.

The South Korean hurler lasted four-plus innings, giving up a run, unearned, on six hits and striking out one.

Michihiro Ogasawara singled to right field to drive in the game’s first run with one out in the top of the third. The next batter, Uchikawa, also singled to right, loading the bases for designated hitter Kenta Kurihara.

Bong got the Hiroshima Carp star to ground into a 5-6-2 double play to hold Japan to a one-run lead.

Nakajima and Aoki led off the fifth with a walk and single, respectively, to put runners on first and third, chasing Bong from the game.

Reliever Jong Hyun Wook responded by striking out Kenji Johjima for the first out of the inning. Jong then struck out Ogasawara and catcher Park Kyung Oan gunned down Aoki trying to steal second to end the threat.

Choo Shin Soo led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot off Iwakuma to tie the score at 1-1.

The score remained tied until Nakajima’s RBI single in the seventh. Japan added an insurance run in the eighth on Iwamura’s run-scoring sacrifice fly.

Lee Dae Ho hit a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to make the score 3-2 in the eighth and Lee Bum Ho tied the score with his RBI single in the ninth.