/ |

Top-of-the-class Kato powers Japan to title

by Jason Coskrey

Down to the their final out and trailing by three runs, Japan was looking for a miracle in the finale of the USA vs. Japan Collegiate Championships.

They got it from Masayoshi Kato . . . twice.

Kato hit a two-run triple to help send the game into extra innings then won it after shortstop Christian Colon bobbled the ball he hit in the 11th as Japan beat the U.S. 8-7 in the deciding game of the best-of-five series on Thursday at Jingu Stadium.

“We didn’t give up until the final moments,” manager Tamotsu Enomoto said. So we knew it was going to be a sayonara.”

The game ended with a pair of errors as U.S. pitcher Sonny Gray threw the ball away trying to pick off the runner at first, allowing the winning run to advance to third prior to Colon’s misplay.

Kato was the hero of the final but Keiji Nakahara had a big game as well, driving in three runs. Nakahara was named the tournament MVP.

After watching the U.S. break a 4-4 tie with three runs in the top of the ninth, Kato cut the lead to one with his triple and Nakahara added a game-tying double off a pair of U.S. relievers.

The U.S. nearly scored the go-ahead run in the 10th as Kolten Wong, who walked earlier, attempted to score a groundball by Brad Miller. Wong came home hard and collided with catcher Shota Koike at the plate. Koike managed to hold on to the ball to record the out.

Prior the Japanese rally, the U.S. seemed to have things well in hand after a big ninth inning.

The U.S. led off the ninth with back-to-back singles off reliever Tomoyuki Sugano, bringing third baseman Rick Hague to the plate with the score tied 4-4. Intending to move the go-ahead run to third, Hague laid down a bunt which Sugano hopped off the mound to field.

Trying to nail the lead runner at third, the Tokai University pitcher made a bad throw, which got past third baseman Masayoshi Kato to allow the runner to score and give the U.S. a 5-4 lead. Miller and Tyler Holt both drove in insurance runs later in the inning to make the score 7-4.

The win gives Japan a 3-2 win in the best-of-five series, its second consecutive triumph over the U.S.

The teams traded wins over the first four games of the series, setting up the winner-take-all finale.

Each team sent its top hurler to the mound, Yuki Saito for Japan and Gerrit Cole, who had each already won a game in the series, for the U.S. in hopes of their respective ace fueling a series victory. Although neither would make it through the fifth.

Saito was done first, giving up four runs — two earned — on four hits in 3 1/3 innings. The Waseda University player struggled with his location at times, but was pitching with a lead until a costly error allowed a pair of runs to score.

Cole was throwing darts for most of the game, retiring 10 consecutive batters at one point, but ran into trouble late. He hit a batter to load the bases in the fifth then walked the next to tie the game before being lifted after 4 2/3 innings. Cole allowed four runs and struck out five.