LOS ANGELES — Some games are difficult to forget.
Win or lose, they remained etched in one’s memory for a long, long time.
Just ask die-hard Japanese baseball fans or players from Japan’s 2006 World Baseball Classic squad.
On March 12, 2006, Japan took the field at Angel Stadium of Anaheim to play against the U.S. squad for the first time with top professional league players of their respective nations.
Japan came up short, giving up a game-winning hit to Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth in a 4-3 victory for the Americans.
But that’s not all. Japan and its loyal fans really thought that the team could’ve — and should’ve — won it because they didn’t feel the game was decided by the players. Instead, they still believe, it was decided by an umpire.
In the top of the eighth with the score tied at 3, Japan loaded the bases with one out. The third-base runner, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, tagged up on a shallow fly ball hit by Akinori Iwamura to left field, and Nishioka crossed home plate for a go-ahead run. And it seemed Japan got momentum then.
But home-plate umpire Bob Davidson, after receiving a protest from U.S. manager Buck Martinez, overturned the decision made by second base umpire Brian Knight. He claimed it was supposed to be his call, and that Nishioka left the bag too soon, even before left fielder Randy Wynn caught the ball.
It seemed to be a groundless call because it clearly appeared on replay, that Nishioka tagged up.
Japan skipper Sadaharu Oh came out of the dugout and protested the call.
But it wasn’t overturned again.
“Of course I was pretty upset and got angry about it,” said outfielder Norichika Aoki, who was on the team three years ago, during Japan’s workout on Friday.
Anyway, that game is, well, ancient history.
It’s time to focus only on what’s next: their 2009 WBC semifinal on Sunday in Los Angeles, both teams insist.
“I don’t remember,” joked U.S. captain Derek Jeter, who is playing in his second straight WBC, responding to a question about his recollection of the game.
“Yeah, we won by a run. It was a questionable call. Usually, there are games where there are questionable calls, but it worked out for us that particular day.”
The 34-year-old New York Yankees shortstop said that the loss didn’t affect Japan’s fate after all because the Asian country went on to capture the tournament title.
“It worked out for Japan in the end,” Jeter said. “They ended up winning a championship, so I don’t think they feel that bad about that game in particular.”
After Thursday’s 6-2 victory over South Korea, Japan outfielder Ichiro Suzuki said his team wouldn’t hold any grudges against the U.S. squad after what happened in that 2006 WBC game, adding that both clubs are participating with a lot of different players.
Nevertheless, the attitude of the Japanese team toward Sunday’s game is pretty optimistic and the motivation level to face the sport’s founding nation is high.
“It’s pretty big that our Japanese baseball defeats American baseball,” Ichiro said, sizing up the opportunity.
Finally, Aoki, who has been a clutch hitter in this tournament to boost his team while Ichiro has been in a batting slump, offered this positive outlook as he wrapped up his workout with the team: “We’d like to win the day after tomorrow and wipe out the bad memory from people.”
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