The World Baseball Classic finally made its return to Tokyo. Unfortunately for Samurai Japan, so did the Seibu Lions.
Back on the field where they upset the Yomiuri Giants in Game 7 of the Japan Series in November, the Lions defeated Japan 7-2 in a WBC exhibition in front of 41,856 fans at Tokyo Dome on Saturday.
Yutaro Osaki hit a two-run homer off starter Hisashi Iwakuma and the Japan Series champions blew the game open in a four-run eighth.
Before the game, Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said he would use the exhibition as a measuring stick for the team and its coaching staff.
“Finally we are going to work out as a unit,” Hara said. “I’m so happy with the condition of each of my players. As Samurai Japan, today’s game will help determine if our system is working or not.”
Things went well early as Iwakuma retired the first seven batters he faced, striking out three. He yielded his first hit of the game, a single to catcher Ginjiro Sumitani in the third. Iwakuma gave up Osaki’s shot to right later in the inning as Seibu took a 2-0 lead.
Long balls are a rarity against Iwakuma, who gave up only three home runs in 2008.
Iwakuma left the game after giving up a pair of runs on three hits in three innings.
“I suppose I threw better than last time,” Iwakuma said. “I could throw hard and could get strikes with breaking balls.”
“I was a bit nervous about the runner (on base),” he said, referring to the home run. “However, overall I feel good at this point. It was a good practice.”
Teammate Satoshi Komatsu probably didn’t leave the mound feeling the same way. Lasting just one-third of an inning, Komatsu gave up four runs in the eighth as Seibu put the game away.
Japan pulled a run back in the fourth, scoring on Michihiro Ogasawara’s single to left which drove in Atsunori Inaba.
Inaba was the lone bright spot for Japan, going 3-for-3 with walk.
“I try to keep my own batting style,” Inaba said. “I try to get on base when I am the first batter of an inning and score the runners when a runner is on base.”
Seibu extended the lead to 3-1 in the fifth, with Osaki executing a squeeze play to bring in another run.
The Lions went ahead 7-1 behind a four-run eighth and Japan drove in a run in the ninth to end the scoring.
Another national team bit the dust earlier in the day as the Giants routed China 9-2.
Chinese starter Lu Jiangang, expected to toe the rubber against Japan in the WBC opener on March 5, held the Giants to a single run over three innings in the loss.
“Today my pitching was OK overall,” Lu said. “They hit my low pitches and that was not really good for me.”
Lu would not confirm if he was getting the call in the opener but maintained he was ready if needed.
“For me, whenever I pitch I am always concerned with showing what I can do,” Lu said. “So on the mound I am always aiming to get each batter out one by one.”
China held its own for much of the game, cutting a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 in the sixth on catcher Yang Yang’s two-run homer off Shun Tono, before the Giants pulled away in the seventh.
Outfielder Daijiro Tanaka went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a homer and shortstop Hayato Sakamoto also went deep for the Giants.
“Tanaka is trying really hard to make the Opening Day roster, said Haruki Ihara, the acting manager while Hara is taking care of the national team. “This is his third year, so whoever the pitcher is, he can handle him.”
The Giants will take on Japan in the night game on Sunday, while Seibu will face China in the early game at Tokyo Dome beginning at noon.
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