SAPPORO – Shohei Otani silenced the powerful South Korea lineup and benefited from some timely hitting by his teammates, as the Japan national team began its quest for the championship in the inaugural Premier 12 with a 5-0 win at Sapporo Dome on Sunday night.
Samurai Japan took an early lead thanks to a little luck in the second inning. With runners on second and first and no outs, Ryosuke Hirata hit a grounder to third, but it grazed the bag and bounced past third baseman Hur Kyoung-min to give the home team a 1-0 lead. Japan added another on a Hayato Sakamoto sacrifice fly in the same inning.
Hirata made his own luck later, giving Japan a boost with another RBI hit in the fifth. The Chunichi Dragons slugger finished with two RBIs.
Sakamoto smacked a solo homer into the left-field bleachers in the sixth, and Tetsuto Yamada drove in a run with a double in the eighth to ensure the win.
But Otani was the top hero of the night.
He overwhelmed the South Korean hitters, utilizing his blazing fastball, nasty forkball and mixing in an occasional slider. He clocked as fast as 161 kph on the gun.
Otani’s biggest moment came in the fifth.
The 21-year-old allowed a leadoff double to Park Byung-ho and walked the following hitter. He escaped the jam by striking out the next three batters.
Otani pitched for six innings, giving up just two hits and recording 10 strikeouts to earn the victory.
“I felt a lot of pressure coming in this tournament. But it’s all about Otani today,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said after the game. “I told Shohei that I’d start him in this game in Sapporo a long time ago. I believe he had pressure, too, but he did a great job.”
Otani said: “I was a little nervous, but my teammates supported me and we were able to make a great start after all.”
South Korea loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but reliever Takahiro Norimoto fanned Kim Hyun-soo to get out of the jam.
Japan’s youngest player, Yuki Matsui, worked in the ninth. The 20-year-old left-handed pitcher juiced the bags as well, but was able to end the game without giving up any runs.
Hokkaido Nippon Ham star Sho Nakata got on base three times, courtesy of an uncaught third strike and a pair of singles. He scored two runs as well. The Japanese offense racked up 12 hits on the night.
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