Japan stays unbeaten as Nakata stars again


Staff Writer

For the second night in a row, Sho Nakata stole the show.

The slugger broke a 2-2 tie with a two-run double in the top of the eighth inning and Samurai Japan preserved its unbeaten record in the Premier 12 with a 4-2 win over the Dominican Republic at Taoyuan International Stadium on Thursday night.

Nakata, who had a five-RBI night in the previous game in a 6-5 win over Mexico, came up with an RBI single in the fourth as well. He went 2-for-4 and struck out twice.

Japan (3-0) had only five hits, but capitalized on a few chances. Skipper Hiroki Kokubo gave credit to Nakata for coming through for his team again.

“We almost won the games yesterday and today with his bat,” Kokubo said.

Japan took a 2-0 lead early, but the Dominican Republic tied it 2-2 with a homer by Ronny Rodriguez, taking advantage of a defensive miscue by left fielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, in the bottom of the seventh off reliever Yasuhiro Ogawa.

Japan quickly regained the lead on Nakata’s hit in the eighth.

Nakata said that he told an apologetic Tsutsugo to refresh his mind after his fielding mistake, and then he came up with the game-winner.

“I usually get support from my teammates as well,” Nakata said. “Tsutsugo apologized, but we wanted to help him by scoring some runs. I’m relieved that I came up with one.”

Tsutsugo said: “I appreciate Nakata. I told him thank you. I was saved.”

Japan starting pitcher Shota Takeda allowed five hits and no runs in four innings, but he left the game due to a slight leg injury. Kokubo said that there’s nothing serious about the injury and it shouldn’t affect Takeda’s potential next start.

Yasuaki Yamasaki and Yuki Matsui worked the final two innings.

The Dominican Republic, the reigning World Baseball Classic champion, suffered its third consecutive loss in the tournament.

“We came up short, but our players played well,” Dominican Republic manager and former major league star Miguel Tejada said through an interpreter. “Japan just outplayed us, but our players did well. So I’m pleased despite the loss.”

Samurai Japan entered the game with a slight lineup change from its previous contests. Kokubo started Shingo Kawabata, the batting champion for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, at third base and catcher Ginjiro Sumitani.

The tournament will have no games on Friday. Japan will take on the United States at the same venue on Saturday night.