ATHENS – Yoshinobu Takahashi hit a game-tying two-run homer and Michihiro Ogasawara drove home the winning run with a sacrifice fly as Japan rallied to edge Taiwan 4-3 in 10 innings and book a spot in the semifinals of the Athens Olympic baseball tournament.
Takahashi connected off Wang Chien-ming for a two-out homer to cap a three-run seventh inning and led off the bottom of the 10th with a single before sliding home head-first on Ogasawara’s flyball to left, which gave Japan its fifth victory in Athens.
With one game left in the preliminary round, the Japanese assured themselves of a place among the top four teams of the eight-team preliminary round with a 5-1 record, while Taiwan dropped to 2-4 and was eliminated.
“It was our plan to try and score if it was a flyball of any kind. I saw how the left fielder fielded the ball and just ran for the plate,” said Yomiuri Giants outfielder Takahashi, who had a team-high three hits. “This was a game we really wanted to win.”
Yomiuri Giants right-hander Koji Uehara allowed a three-run homer to Chen Ching-feng with two out in the third.
Taiwan starter Wang held the Japan offense at bay through six innings before being roughed up in the seventh.
Shinya Miyamoto cut the deficit to 3-1 with a bunt that resulted in an RBI groundout and Takahashi followed with his second homer in Athens with an opposite-field drive over the left-field wall.
“I didn’t want to leave the mound, but I had already reached the limit,” said Wang, who left the game after yielding the homer to Takahashi after 6 2/3 innings of work.
“I was able to control my pitches until the seventh. I wanted to throw an inside changeup to Takahashi . . . the catcher told me to throw an outside fastball, but the pitch was a little too high,” he said.
Tsao Chin-hui, one of the three Taiwan players based in North America, along with Chen and Wang, pitched 2 2/3 innings and left the game with runners on second and third in the bottom of the 10th.
Yang Chien-fu relieved but let Ogasawara hit the ball to shallow left and Takahashi beat the throw home to give Japan victory.
For Japan, Yakult Swallows lefty Hirotoshi Ishii relieved Uehara in the eighth and held Taiwan scoreless for the next two innings. Hiroshima Carp right-hander Hiroki Kuroda earned the win after working the 10th.
Uehara was making his second start in the tournament after getting the win in Japan’s opener against Italy.
He allowed three runs and eight hits while striking out six and walking two.
Japan will play winless Greece on Sunday.
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