ANAHEIM, Calif. – Team Mexico may actually be glad to see Roger Clemens after facing Team Japan.
Daisuke Matsuzaka finally put together a dominant World Baseball Classic performance, and Japan’s offense quickly solved Mexico’s pitching on the way to a comfortable 6-1 win Tuesday at Angel Stadium.
After losing an exhibition game and balking in a run against Taiwan, Matsuzaka (2-0) pitched five innings of scoreless, one-hit ball against Mexico (2-3), winning a duel in quality and quantity against Oakland Athletics pitcher Esteban Loaiza.
Matsuzaka gave up a first-inning single to Jorge Cantu, and the skies stayed clear the rest of the way for the Seibu Lions right-hander.
Matsuzaka walked two, one of which was later erased in a double play.
“My pitches were starting to come along as the innings went by,” I was trying to be too accurate on corners at the beginning, but I started not to worry about it too much as my pitches were going really well.”
Matsuzaka did exactly what manager Sadaharu Oh expected him to do. Having watched closely through the years from across the Pacific League, Oh has seen the damage Matsuzaka can do.
“I know how well he can pitch,” he said. “I knew if he pitched like he was capable of, he would come out and shut down the very talented Mexican bats. I was convinced we would be able to win.”
Although Mexico was eliminated Tuesday, Japan (3-2) still has control of its WBC destiny. If it wins tomorrow against Korea, it will be in a tiebreaker at worst, and if Japan wins and Mexico beats Clemens and Team USA on Thursday, a tiebreaker would not be necessary.
A three-way tiebreaker among Japan, Korea and the United States would be settled by who allowed fewer runs per innings played.
Yasuhiko Yabuta, who gave up an eighth-inning homer to Miguel Ojeda, was the only Japanese pitcher to allow a run.
“I am relieved that I gave up no runs because I really wanted to give up as few runs as possible for us to advance to the next round,” Matsuzaka said, fully aware of the rules. “Both offense and defense gave me a huge lift.”
Japan had lost four of five games and two WBC games after opening the tournament with mercy-rule victories against China and Taiwan, and Team Japan’s hitters took care of business against Loaiza.
Loaiza (1-1) sent down the first three batters in order, and it came more and more unwound as the game went on, and in the fourth, Team Japan finally got on the board, ending a run of 10 scoreless WBC innings.
Nobuhiko Matsunaka singled, and after Akinori Iwamura walked, Hitoshi Tamura laid down a sacrifice bunt to put the runners at second and third.
Michihiro Ogasawara brought both runners home, slapping a single to right field.
“We really wanted to score in the fourth because we had failed to score in the first three innings,” Ogasawara said. “I gave all my heart out there in that at-bat, and it feels good.”
A pitch later, Tomoya Satozaki got all of a Loaiza cutter, hitting his first WBC home run and making sure Ogasawara wouldn’t be left standing.
“I only tried to advance the runner because (next batter Munenori) Kawasaki is swinging good,” Satozaki said. “I tried to hit it to the opposite field and was able to do it well.”
Loaiza left after the fourth inning, and Japan was on the way.
“Coming in, we really thought their pitchers were very good,” Oh said. “We had to score first because we thought this game would be neck-in-neck. Scoring first was an absolute must, 100 percent. To proceed in the tournament, we knew if was important to score first.”
The lead was more than enough for Japan’s bullpen, which kept Mexico’s bats under wraps. After scoring 19 runs in its final two Group B games, Mexico has managed just two runs in Round 2.
Tsuyoshi Wada threw two scoreless innings on Matsuzaka’s heels and Yabuta’s inning was blemished only by the homer before Texas Rangers righty Akinori Otsuka closed out Mexico, walking one before slamming the door.
Japan will be playing to stay alive for a spot in San Diego on Wednesday against Korea (5-0), which is the only unbeaten team remaining in the World Baseball Classic.
“Tomorrow, if we win, it won’t be a problem,” Oh said. “Today I’m very glad to win. Initially we couldn’t score any runs, and I was longing for it, almost yearning for it. When we got the fifth run, that was when I figured we were going to win this one.”
If Japan beats Korea and gives up fewer than five runs in the game in a nine-inning game, it would advance automatically, no matter what happens between Team USA and Mexico on Thursday.
The number of runs allowed per innings played is the determining factor, and extra-inning games would affect the percentage.