TAIPEI – Samurai Japan earned its second win ― its first since arriving in Taiwan ― through a hard-fought battle.
Slugger Sho Nakata hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth as Japan defeated Mexico 6―5 at Tien-Mou Stadium on Wednesday night in a first-round game of the Premier 12.
“We allowed (Mexico) to get closer to us, but we wound up winning it,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said after the game. “That’s what you want in the end. This is a valuable win for us.”
Mexico pinch hitter Tim Torres drove in a game-tying run with a two-out single to center in the top of the ninth.
But Japan came out on top in the end.
Tetsuto Yamada led off the ninth inning with a double. Mexico then decided to take on Nakata by intentionally walking Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
Nakata went 3-for-3 with five RBIs for the two-time World Baseball Classic champions. His fellow long-ball hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo had three hits to chip in for Japan.
“Honestly speaking, they intentionally walked Tsutsugo, and it gave me extra motivation,” Nakata said.
Japan starter Kenta Maeda was a little off of his top form, giving up two runs in five innings on 86 pitches. He yielded a solo homer to Robert Lopez in the second as well. The 27-year-old fanned seven hitters.
Japan took an early 4-1 lead, capitalizing on Nakata’s two-run homer. But Mexico gradually cut into the deficit, taking advantage of the Japanese pitchers’ inconsistency.
“Once you are chosen for the Japanese national team, you only think about winning the world championship,” Maeda said. “I’m pitching with that objective. I’ll do my job to make that happen.”
Outfielder Shogo Akiyama said that even after Mexico tied the game in the ninth, Japan wasn’t discouraged because the home side still had the bottom half of the frame to work with.
“We still had our offense left, and it was a situation that we could have made something happen,” said Akiyama, who racked up a NPB-record 216 hits this past season and a pair of hits on Wednesday. “We didn’t have to feel low at the time.”
Mexico had defeated Venezuela 6-4 on Tuesday and is now at 1-1 in Group B.
Japan (2-0) will square off against the Dominican Republic on Thursday night at Taoyuan International Stadium.
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