All Brent Rooker knew was that it wasn’t going to be another slider. He’d already been beaten with that pitch during two at-bats and his mind was made up.
If Wu Sheng-feng, who had already struck out Rooker twice, was going to beat him again, the Taiwanese hurler was going to have to throw something else.
In the seventh inning, the only person who got the best of a determined Rooker was whoever decided to put a roof on Tokyo Dome.
Rooker hit a mammoth two-run home run, accompanied by an equally emphatic bat flip, to give the United States the lead in the seventh and the Americans held on for a 3-2 victory over Taiwan in the Premier12 Super Round on Friday afternoon at the Big Egg.
“What the pitcher was able to do so well today was mix three pitches and keep the ball down in the zone and around the strike zone,” Rooker said. “He’d beaten me with sliders my first two at-bats and I just kind of decided on deck that that wasn’t going to happen again. If he was gonna beat me, it was either going to be with a fastball or a changeup.
“So I went up there looking for a slider in the middle of the plate. I got one early in the count and fouled it off. Then I was able to be patient enough to wait until I got another one and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Spencer Jones earned the win in relief for the U.S. Orix Buffaloes pitcher Brandon Dickson worked the ninth for his third save of the Premier12.
The U.S. can still grab one of the Olympic berths up for grabs at the tournament depending on how things play out in other games.
The first hurdle was getting past Taiwan and Wu, who kept the Americans at bay with his breaking pitches for most of the day.
“Runs were at a premium,” U.S. manager Scott Brosius said. “I thought the pitcher for Taipei threw a great game against us, very difficult to score on. But it became a game of just the one big swing. They had a swing that put them ahead, and then we had the big swing to put us back ahead.”
It was the U.S. that struck first against Wu, who finished the game with seven strikeouts. Jo Adell hit a one-out single to left in the first and Andrew Vaughn hit a slider for an RBI single.
Wang Wei-chen drew a walk to start the third and a single into center by Wang Sheng-wei left Taiwan with runners on the corners. Jhang Jin-de hit a double-play ball to second, but it was enough to bring in Wang Wei-chen to tie the score.
Wang Sheng-wei nearly put Taiwan on top with a drive to left in the bottom of the fifth. The ball, however, hit off the top of the wall. Wang rounded second trying to turn the double into a triple, but was tagged out at the plate — after a long replay review.
Taiwan eventually took the lead in the sixth on a homer to straightaway center by Hu Chin-lung.
“We played very well today,” Hu said. “Our pitcher also pitched really well. However, he threw over 100 pitches. It only took a mistake on one pitch for the other team to hit a home run. But that kind of thing can happen in a big game like this.”
The U.S. trailed 2-1 entering the seventh, held to one run and three hits by Wu, who was dealing on the mound — just as Australia’s Tim Atherton had two days prior in Australia’s 2-1 win over the U.S.
“No question, the game was very similar in terms of how it was played and how it was pitched,” Brosius said. “I thought Chinese Taipei did a very good job of executing a gameplan. We did not see fastballs in fastball counts, pitched backwards quite a bit, kept the ball down and away and away from our power.”
It looked like the seventh would be more of the same when Vaughn grounded out to begin the inning. Erik Kratz hit a ball up the middle to give the U.S. a baserunner and Rooker went deep later to move the Americans out front.
“I had been holding my breath for about three innings,” Brosius said. “So, he allowed me to breathe a little bit.”
The Americans got six hits from six different players, with Vaughn and Rooker accounting for all three runs.
Wu took the loss for Taiwan and allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings. Wang Sheng-wei had two of Taiwan’s four hits.
“I feel bad that we lost, but all of our players tried their best,” Taiwan manager Hong I-Chung said.