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Samurai Japan receives heroes’ welcome

Kyodo

Japan returned home to a heroes’ welcome Wednesday after successfully defending its World Baseball Classic title.

The team was greeted with loud cheers from around 1,200 fans as Japan manager Tatsunori Hara led his team through a packed arrivals lobby at Narita airport.

“We are able to come back to Japan as the No. 1 team in the world. We battled to the best of our ability,” Hara told a press conference.

“We showed Japan’s strength through tenacity and mental toughness, especially in the final against South Korea. The players are able to come home with their heads held high. I am extremely proud to be manager of the world’s No. 1 team,” added the Yomiuri Giants skipper.

Japan knocked out the United States in the semifinals before going on to beat Asian rival and Beijing Olympic champion South Korea 5-3 in 10 innings in Monday’s final in Los Angeles.

Millions of people across Japan tuned in to watch the final live on television while Prime Minister Taro Aso hailed the team’s efforts, saying, “We have reaffirmed the fundamental power of our country through this tournament.”

Japan beat Cuba in San Diego to win the inaugural WBC in 2006.

All-tournament team

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was chosen the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and two of his teammates have been listed on the classic’s all-tournament team, WBC organizers said Tuesday.

The trio — Matsuzaka, right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and outfielder Norichika Aoki — helped Japan beat reigning Olympic champion South Korea 5-3 Monday to win its second straight WBC title at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Matsuzaka, who posted a 3-0 record with a 2.45 ERA, was named the MVP after the game.

Iwakuma, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ 21-game winner last season, had to settle for making the 12-member all-tournament Team along with Aoki, a two-time batting champion in the Central League, who batted .324 with 12 hits, seven RBIs and four runs scored in the WBC.

Among nine others named to the all-tournament team, selected by media members, Cuba outfielder Frederich Cepeda and South Korean first baseman Kim Tae Kyun were the only unanimous selections, the WBC said.

Cepeda batted .500 with three home runs and 10 RBIs, and Kim batted .345 with three homers and a tournament-high 11 RBIs.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who went 4-for-4 in Team USA’s 9-4 loss to Japan in the semifinals, was the only American to make the team.