TAOYUAN, TAIWAN – Samurai Japan clobbered the United States and clinched a quarterfinal berth at the Premier 12 in the process.
Sho Nakata, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Nobuhiro Matsuda stepped up offensively and Japan scored nine runs across the sixth and seventh innings of a lopsided 10-2 victory over the U.S. at Taoyuan International Stadium on Saturday night.
The quarterfinals will be played on Monday. Japan, which has now secured first place in Group B, will face the fourth-place finisher from Group A.
With Japan down 2-1 in the sixth, Tsutsugo came up with an RBI double and the next hitter, Nakata, blasted a go-ahead three-run homer.
In the following frame, Matsuda, an energetic infielder for the 2015 NPB champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, swung at the first pitch from Seth Simmons and hit a two-out grand slam to secure the “W.”
Samurai Japan racked up 13 hits against the U.S. hurlers. Tsutsugo was overshadowed by Nakata and Matsuda, but chipped in with three RBI hits. Akira Nakamura, in the starting lineup for the first time in the tourney, finished with three singles.
Tetsuto Yamada, the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ versatile star, drew three walks and scored three times.
“Because Tsutsugo tied the game for us, I was able to step up to the plate with more of a relaxed mindset,” Nakata said. “As a result, I hit the home run and I’m relieved.”
Nakata is 8-for-15 with two homers and 11 RBIs for Samurai Japan in the tournament. Asked if he’s ever hit this well before, he said, “I’ve been able to hit in a way I almost never have.
“I think I have, but I can’t recall it right away. So probably I’ve got to go back a long time.”
Matsuda said of his grand slam: “Because I didn’t do anything in the previous three at-bats, manager (Hiroki) Kokubo told me to hit with a simpler mindset, and I was able to do that.”
Japan starter Tomoyuki Sugano allowed two runs and five hits, including a solo homer, in four innings. Takahiro Norimoto, who relieved Sugano and tossed two scoreless inning, got the win. After Norimoto, relievers Yasuaki Yamasaki, Hirotoshi Masui and Hirokazu Sawamura shut out the Americans.
Kokubo said Sugano might have not been in his best shape, but still managed to do his job.
“He pitched resiliently and held them to two runs, and it put us in a good position to win the ballgame,” Kokubo said.
“Our hitters have been good, so I wasn’t worried too much about them for this game. Nakata’s been our key guy in this tournament, so I’d like to see good performances from him during the remainder of it.”
Team USA took its second loss of the tournament (the Americans also have two wins). Skipper Willie Randolph gave Japan the credit for the win.
“Obviously, Japan was very tough today about scoring runs,” Randolph said. “And their pitchers hung in there. I think we had opportunities early to score some runs and they had a couple of big double plays.”
For the U.S., cleanup hitter Dan Black went 2-for-4.
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