• Kyodo

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Ryosuke Kikuchi led Japan to an 8-4 comeback win over Venezuela in their WBSC Premier12 opener on Tuesday, driving in a pair of runs and scoring another in a 3-for-4 outing.

The 2020 Olympic Games hosts entered the eighth inning at Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium trailing 4-2 but turned the tables with a six-run frame against the flagging Venezuelan bullpen.

With the bases loaded, right-hander Anthony Vizcaya walked Kensuke Kondo for the go-ahead run after Kikuchi tied things up with a single to score Hiroshima Carp teammate Yoshihiro Maru.

RBIs from Seiya Suzuki, Sosuke Genda and another bases-loaded walk by Miguel Socolovich added the exclamation marks for Samurai Japan.

Vizcaya took the loss, while Hiroshi Kaino got the win after going 1-2-3 in the decisive eighth inning.

Left-hander Felix Doubront had given Venezuela a strong start, limiting Japan to a solitary hit through four scoreless innings.

The South Americans took the lead in the top of the fourth, with Balbino Fuenmayor coming home on a groundout by Dixon Machado after Japanese starter Shun Yamaguchi loaded the bases on a pair of hits and walk.

Samurai Japan went up 2-1 the following inning with reliever Andres Sotillet on the mound. Kikuchi doubled to bring home Seiji Kobayashi from third before Suzuki bounced a ground ball to center field to score Hayato Sakamoto.

The advantage was short-lived, however, as Venezuela added three runs the following frame against Taisuke Yamaoka. Skipper Atsunori Inaba pulled the Orix Buffaloes right-hander after he gave up three straight hits including a game-tying double to Carlos Rivero.

The Venezuelans went ahead on a groundout, with Jose Godoy rounding from third after Machado made contact with an 0-1 breaking ball from Kan Otake.

Japan put the tying run on base in the eighth, then loaded up when Vizcaya walked Tsubasa Aizawa. Tetsuto Yamada went looking for a go-ahead grand slam, but his deep shot to left fell outside the foul pole. But the Yakult Swallows infielder got the scoreboard ticking when he drew a walk, bringing Kikuchi to the plate.

The 2019 Premier12 is run by the World Baseball Softball Confederation as a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As host nation, Japan automatically qualifies for the games.

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