Japan had usually been able to find a way to come up with the big hit or big play when it absolutely needed to at this Premier12.
The difference on Tuesday night was the Japanese found themselves against an opponent who was always ready with an answer.
The United States used a mix of timely hitting and good pitching to keep Japan at arm’s length long enough bring the host nation’s winning streak to an end with a 4-3 win in the Super Round of the tournament at Tokyo Dome.
“We lost but the players did their very best tonight,” Samurai Japan manager Atsunori Inaba said.
Japan had been a perfect 4-0 on the field before running into the Americans, who won their first game of the Super Round and third of the tournament.
“Obviously very pleased with the result of the game tonight,” U.S. manager Scott Brosius said. “Thought it was very much a team effort, from top to bottom.”
Hideto Asamura, who was serenaded by the crowd, who sang “Happy Birthday” to the new 29-year-old before his first at-bat, had a big night for Japan in defeat.
Asamura grounded out in his first at-bat before driving in runs in his next three trips to the plate. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles infielder finished 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs.
“I felt like the U.S. pitchers were trying to make us hit the ball on the ground,” Asamura said. “So I was trying to avoid the low balls and wait for something I could drive.”
Seiya Suzuki also remained red-hot, connecting on a double and triple in three at-bats. Suzuki is now 8-for-17 in the tournament.
Still, it wasn’t enough for Japan, which couldn’t come up with the hits it needed and left eight men on base.
“This is a tough outcome, but the tournament is still going on,” Asamura said. “So we would like to start fresh from tomorrow.”
When Japan did come up with a few clutch hits, the Americans were able to respond almost every time.
Jacob Cronenworth picked up an RBI in the second inning and Robert Dalbec drove in a run with a double in the third to stake the U.S. to an early 2-0 lead.
From there, almost each time Japan cut the lead to one, the U.S. pushed it back to two the very next inning.
When Asamura drove in a run in the bottom of the fourth, U.S. third baseman Alec Bohm knocked in one in the top of the fifth.
Asamura hit an RBI double in the sixth to make it 3-2, only for Jo Adell to connect on a towering opposite-field homer to right in the seventh off Yudai Ono.
“I went into the at-bat just with the approach of going the other way,” Adell said. “I wanted to poke something through second base or whatever it may be.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to get anything over the plate. They were throwing well the whole game. So I looked for something middle away, luckily enough got off-speed on the outside corner and did damage with it.”
When Asamura drove in his third run of the night, with a single in the eighth, the answer came from the mound.
After cutting the deficit to 4-3, Asamura was lifted for pinch runner Ukyo Shuto, who then stole second and went to third on a passed ball.
U.S. reliever Spencer Jones then struck out Hayato Sakamoto and retired Tsubasa Aizawa to get out of the inning.
“We knew what was coming, very hard to stop,” Brosius said of Shuto. “He’s fast, and we knew that. I thought there were some really key situations tonight where we made some big pitches in some big spots.
“Spencer was huge, made a couple of very good pitches, good sequences and got a couple of really good hitters out to get the job done.”
Orix Buffaloes pitcher Brandon Dickson entered the game in the ninth and kept his fellow NPB stars off the scoreboard to close it out and pick up the save. Clayton Richard earned the win in relief for the U.S.
Rei Takahashi made the start for Japan and allowed a pair of runs over four innings. He was charged with the loss.
“Even though there were some good points, I wasn’t able to live up to the role of the starter,” Takahashi said. “I allowed the first run and was replaced after the fourth inning.”
Sakamoto also had a rough night, finishing 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Sakamoto, who hit .312 with 40 home runs for the Yomiuri Giants and is likely to be named the Central League MVP later this month, is 3-for-15 overall in the tournament.
“He did his best,” Inaba said. “The results tonight are what they are. The responsibility for the loss lies with me.”