Samurai Japan disappointed its home crowd in a stunning semifinal loss to South Korea two days previously. But the Premier 12 cohost bounced back with an 11-1 rout of Mexico in the third-place game on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
Japan’s leadoff hitter, Shogo Akiyama, smacked a two-run homer into the right-field bleachers in the bottom of the seventh inning to end the contest on the tournament’s mercy rule.
“It was a difficult game to play for us (after the tough loss in the semifinals), but our players cleared their heads and played well. And it was good to see that we finished the tournament in a better fashion,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said after the game.
Japan finished the inaugural World Baseball Softball Confederation global championship with a 7-1 record and earned prize money of $400,000.
Japan put up an offensive assault and secured the victory early. The team racked up seven runs on three home runs — from Tetsuto Yamada, Sho Nakata and Nobuhiro Matsuda — in the second.
Yamada, this year’s Central League MVP favorite, belted a pair of dingers to lead Japan’s offensive explosion. The 23-year-old right-handed batter went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Akira Nakamura added three hits in the victory. The Samurai Japan hitters accumulated 11 hits in the triumph.
“I was a little nervous as we were playing in an unusual atmosphere, but I’m glad that I was still able to hit (the homers),” said Yamada, a Tokyo Yakult Swallows infielder.
Despite the overwhelming win, however, most of the players left the stadium a little heavy-hearted for not having been able to win the championship, the only goal they set for themselves coming into the tourney.
“I just wish we could have won the championship,” said Nakata, who made a big contribution with his bat throughout the tournament. “So I have a lot of disappointment in myself. But still it was a good experience.”
Matsuda, the emotional leader of the 2015 Japan Series champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, said it would have been a perfect year for him personally had he grabbed the gold medal.
“We won the Japan Series title and it would’ve been a great season adding the world championship,” Matsuda said. “But we came up short and I’m certainly disappointed. Nevertheless, I played throughout the year without any major injuries and it was personally a very good year.”
Japan starting pitcher Shota Takeda gave up just one hit in three innings. Tomoyuki Sugano relieved Takeda and allowed one run on a solo homer in the sixth, pitching in three innings also.
Mexico, which lost to the United States in Friday’s seminal, came up with just two hits and was overpowered by Japan. Both hits came from Juan Perez.
“I think we have to admit they are at a much higher level,” Mexico skipper Mike Brito said through an interpreter. “I feel the Japanese team is the No. 1 team among all the teams.”
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