Japan was already in the second round before facing China on Friday night. There was just a little unfinished business to take care of before moving on to the next round.
Seiji Kobayashi and Sho Nakata hit home runs and Japan beat China 7-1 on Friday night at Tokyo Dome to finish with a 3-0 record in the first round of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Kobayashi hit a two-run home run in the second inning and Nakata added a two-run blast in the third as the Japanese cruised to an easy victory. Ryosuke Kikuchi and Tetsuto Yamada also recorded RBIs for Japan.
“I was just focused on swinging as hard as I could because it was an 0-2 count,” Kobayashi said of his home run.
Japan scored at least four runs in all three of its games in the first round, connecting on six home runs.
“I didn’t expect to get so many home runs,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said. “We know we’re going to have tough games in the second round, so I’m hoping the team stays as hot as it is now.”
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo led the way during the first round with a pair of home runs and five RBIs during pool play.
“I don’t send in any signs for the cleanup guy,” Kokubo said. “His role is to get RBIs, and he did what I expected of him.
Tsutsugo’s performance earned him the Pool B MVP award.
“The results were good,” he said. “I know that tough games are coming up. The first round is over, and from now I’ll prepare for the second round.”
Nakata also finished with a pair of homers in the first round.
“I’m just trying to use my normal swing, and I’ve been able to do that lately,” Nakata said.
Pride was all that was on the line on Friday, since Japan’s place atop Pool B, and China’s at the bottom, was already decided. The victory, however, meant Japan won all of its first-round WBC games for the first time.
Starter Shota Takeda earned the win, allowing one run on four hits and striking out three.
China’s run at the WBC ended with three losses.
“I thought we competed very well,” China manager John McLaren said. “Japan is one of the better teams in the tournament. We came off of a very tough loss last night (11-0 to Australia) and we weren’t prepared and we didn’t play well. I thought we showed up tonight and showed a little character.”
The Chinese scored their only run of the tournament when Ray Chang, in his final game with the national team, connected on an RBI single against Takeda in the third inning.
China starter Gan Quan allowed five runs on five hits in three innings. Gan was charged with the loss. Meng Weiqiang pitched in relief for China after playing left field in the team’s first game and serving as the designated hitter in its second.
Yamada got Japan on the board with a sacrifice fly in the first inning, and Kobayashi’s two-run homer made it 3-0 in the second.
Chu Fujia drew a two-out walk and Joey Wong singled to put runners on first and second for China in the third. Chang then singled to right to make the score 3-1.
Nakata pushed Japan’s lead to four with his home run in the bottom half of the third.
An RBI single by Kikuchi and a throwing error on the same play allowed two runs to score in bottom of the seventh to give Japan a 7-1 advantage.
Japan will face the Netherlands in its second-round opener on Sunday. The teams met in the second round of the 2013 WBC, with Japan winning in a 16-4 rout. They last met in a pair of exhibitions in November at Tokyo Dome, with Japan winning 9-8 and 12-10.
Japan could see a familiar face on Sunday, with the possibility of Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitcher Rick van den Hurk getting the start for the Dutch.
“He’s obviously a very good pitcher,” Nakata said. “We’re not going to be able to hit him easily.”