Japan wins close contest in Taipei


Shogo Akiyama broke up a tie game in the sixth inning with his second RBI of the game as a young Japan team defeated Taiwan 4-2 in the first game of their three-game series.

With the game tied 2-2, Akiyama delivered a sacrifice fly that plated cleanup hitter Sho Nakata with the go-ahead run. Pinch hitter Ryosuke Hirata followed with an RBI double that completed the scoring as Japan capitalized on a pair of costly errors by the hosts at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium.

Rookie right-hander Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa, who led the Central League in wins while pitching for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows this season, allowed a run in four innings, while lefty Yudai Ono allowed a run in three innings.

The hosts got off the mark in the first as Chicago Cubs minor leaguer Chen Pin-chieh singled off Ogawa, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Texas Rangers farmhand Chiang Chih-hsien.

With one out and Akiyama on second in the fifth, Japan captain Motohiro Shima of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles connected on an RBI single and a 2-1 lead.

Ogawa allowed two hits and a walk, all in the first inning, while striking out eight. Ono, of the Chunichi Dragons, however, allowed the hosts to tie it in the bottom of the fifth.

Taiwan errors opened the door for Japan to take the lead again in the sixth. Back-to-back fumbles at short and third put runners on first and third with no outs. With one out, Akiyama flied to right to score Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters cleanup hitter Nakata, and the Dragons’ Hirata completed the damage.

The game marked the managing debut of former Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks slugger Hiroki Kokubo, who is expected to lead Samurai Japan to the next World Baseball Classic in 2017. With the exception of the 28-year-old Shima, Kokubo has selected a team of players aged 26 or under.