Japan's assault on Netherlands surprises manager Yamamoto

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Team Japan sure put it all together Sunday night. But who would have thought it would earn the victory with a slugfest?

A total of 17 hits, six of them home runs. That’s what Japan racked up during a 16-4 win over the Netherlands in Sunday’s WBC second-round game at Tokyo Dome.

Japan had produced only a pair of extra-base hits — with zero balls over the fences — in its previous four games in the tournament.

“To be very honest with you, I’m so pleased,” Japan batting coach Kazuyoshi Tatsunami said with a smile after the victory, which earned Japan a spot in the semifinals in San Francisco. “Everybody really put up what they had.”

Some people may have had doubts about skipper Koji Yamamoto’s decision to put Takashi Toritani, who hadn’t previously had any hits in the tourney, in the leadoff hole. But it took only two pitches for Toritani to prove the 66-year-old manager wasn’t wrong after all.

Toritani, a Hanshin Tiger, went deep in the top of the first to ignite the Japanese assault on the Dutch. After Toritani, Nobuhiro Matsuda, Seiichi Uchikawa, Atsunori Inaba, and Yoshio Itoi followed with homers. To close out the festivities, Hayato Sakamoto, a young star for the Yomiuri Giants, blasted a grand slam. Japan’s six home runs tied the WBC single-game home run record. Cuba also hit six during a 2009 game against South Africa.

Japan got at least a hit from each man on the starting lineup.

Even Yamamoto seemed unsure who hit a homer and who didn’t.

While Uchikawa spoke to reporters in the mixed zone, Yamamoto jokingly asked the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks outfielder as he walked by, “You hit a home run, didn’t you?”

After Yamamoto had gone, Uchikawa told reporters with a bitter smile, “We hit so many he didn’t remember.”

Meanwhile, Inaba, who hit eighth on Sunday, said he was determined to help the team from the bottom half of the order.

“I said to Matsuda before the game that we should do something as the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters,” said Inaba, the team’s oldest player. “When you set the table from the bottom half of the lineup for the top of the order, you can score a lot of runs. That’s a formula.”

Despite a 3-1 record prior to the Netherlands game, Japan never had it easy. The first game of the second round against Taiwan, a 4-3 win in 10 innings, was especially gut-wrenching.

Third base coach Nobuhiro Takashiro said he appreciated the team’s ability to play in tense circumstances, but he would rather see it win big like on Sunday.

“I’d rather win easily than win barely,” Takashiro said.

Takashiro certainly got his wish on Sunday.

Tatsunami, however, doesn’t think that there will be another game like that in the reminder of the tournament.

“We’ll face better pitchers from now on,” he said. “So we’re not going to hit like today. But I want our guys to be able to come up with one run patiently in any situation in any game.”