OSAKA – Samurai Japan completed a sweep of its two-game friendly series with Taiwan, coming from behind to record a 9-3 win on Sunday.
The game was close until two-time World Baseball Classic champion Japan lit up right-hander Chen Hung-wen in the ninth. With the 2017 WBC now less than a year away, the two international games will be the last for Samurai Japan until November.
“The WBC starts around this time next year and it’s likely we face Taiwan so we’ll prepare well,” manager Hiroki Kokubo said. “It’s hard to overestimate how good our pitchers were. Those guys from Taiwan have some great swings. We succeeded because we located. Had we missed more, it could have been scary.”
Hong Yi-chung, Taiwan’s manager, echoed his counterpart.
“This reinforced our respect for their pitching and for how hard their batters are to get out,” Hong said. “I was impressed how badly the Japanese players wanted to win, how their coaches could convey the importance of that. We can tell our players until we’re blue in the face, but they don’t always get it. I think this will allow the message to get through.
“I think we learned a lot of lessons here and the players will look forward to their next shot at Japan.”
Taiwan cashed in its first scoring threat of the series to take the lead in the bottom of the third at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome. Lin Chih-ping singled to open the inning and scored on a two-out double steal as Taiwan exploited some lapses by their opponents.
A throwing error by Fukuoka Softbank Hawks right-hander Shota Takeda, a poor effort on a potential double play by Hawks shortstop Kenta Imamiya and a split-second judgement error by Hiroshima Carp second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi combined to give Taiwan its only lead.
Imamiya and Kikuchi, however, quickly redeemed themselves. Kikuchi opened the top of the fourth with a bunt single. Throwing errors on the play by Taiwan’s second pitcher, Pan Wei-lun and right fielder Wang Po-jung put Kikuchi on third, and he scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Yokohama BayStars slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
“We didn’t really get untracked until Kikuchi got us going,” Kokubo said.
Imamiya, who had made a leaping grab at short to control the damage in Taiwan’s third, sparked a two-run fifth with his second single. The speedster stole second and scored the go-ahead run when a single to right by Tohoku Rakuten golden Eagles infielder Ginji Akaminai was misplayed.
Akaminai tacked on a run, scoring from second on a single by Hiroshima’s
Yoshihiro Maru off Taiwan’s third pitcher, Lin Tsu-wei.
Takeda allowed an unearned run in three innings, and was replaced by Yuki Nishi. The Orix Buffaloes right-hander, pitching in his home park, struck out the side in the fourth and overcame a leadoff single in the fifth with a strikeout and a sweet double play from Imamiya and Kikuchi that ended the inning.
Yomiuri Giants lefty Chiaki Tone, Hawks right-hander Yuito Mori and BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki followed Nishi to the mound with one perfect inning of relief each.
Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who started on the bench and came on as Kokubo brought on the bulk of his reserves, doubled to open the ninth and scored on a fielder’s choice.
“It wasn’t going to be easy to score runs but Kikuchi and Sakamoto showed what Japan is about with their running,” Kokubo said. “As I’ve been saying, we can’t expect to be able to steal easily in international competition. We have good speed and this weekend we showed what we can do with it.”
Walks by Akaminai, and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tetsuto Yamada helped load the bases for Ryosuke Hirata, and the Chunichi Dragons outfielder tripled in three runs. Tsutsugo followed with a two-run shot that made it 9-1.
Taiwan scored two consolation runs in the ninth off Chiba Lotte Marines closer Yuji Nishino. A leadoff bloop single was followed by Wang Po-jung’s smash past the first-base bag for an RBI double. Seibu Lions center fielder Shogo Akiyama robbed Liu Fu-hao of extra bases for the second straight time, but Chao Shih-chi singled Wang home from third.
Although the series finale was completely sold out, the ballpark was roughly 80 percent full with an announced attendance of 32,232.