The World Baseball Classic is officially underway! There have been some surprises so far, but none of them occurred in games involving Team Japan. Here is a quick rundown of their four round-robin games.
Thursday, March 9 vs. China
Starting Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani
Leadoff hitter Lars Nootbaar stroked the first pitch he saw into shallow center, and after that, the Chinese starting pitcher threw twelve straight balls, resulting in Nootbaar scoring. Somehow, the road team got out of the first inning without any further damage. Three innings later, Nootbaar and Kensuke Kondoh reached base safely, and Shohei Ohtani, who had finished his evening on the mound with four shutout innings, hit a double to the left-center wall, scoring the two runners. China put up their lone run in the top of the sixth off Shosei Togo, but Team Japan added a run in the seventh (a Shugo Maki solo home run to right) and four in the eighth (Tetsuto Yamada RBI single, Sosuke Genda bases-loaded walk, Takuya Kai 2-RBI double). Japan wins, 8-1!
Friday, March 10 vs. Korea
Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish
Korea broke open the scoring with a two-run home run off Darvish in the top of the third, followed by an RBI double that same inning. However, in the bottom of the inning, Japan retaliated with four runs: Nootbaar and Kondoh each drove one run in, and Masataka Yoshida brought two home with a single to center. In the fifth, Kondoh led off with a home run, and Yoshida hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning to push the lead to three. After Korea got one back in the top of the sixth (off Shota Imanaga), Japan padded their lead further with five runs: a bases-loaded walk from Kondoh, an RBI single from Ohtani, a sacrifice fly from Munetaka Murakami, and RBI singles from Yoshida and Kazuma Okamoto. They would add two more the next inning on a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk. Once again, Japan wins handily, 13-4!
Saturday, March 11 vs. Czech Republic
Starting Pitcher: Roki Sasaki
Somehow, the Czechs scored the opening run (coming on an error), and held the lead until the bottom of the third. In that inning, Yoshida hit a two-run double and came home on Tetsuto Yamada’s ensuing single. In the fourth inning, Nootbaar, Kondoh, and Ohtani each collected an RBI hit, and Yoshida picked up his third RBI of the game on a sacrifice fly. In the fifth, the Czechs scored another run (off Hiroya Miyagi), but Japan got it back in the bottom of the frame on back-up player Taisei Makihara’s first RBI of the games. In the bottom of the eighth, Maki hit his second home run of the round robin, and Hotaka Yamakawa hit a sacrifice fly. Another convincing win for Japan, 10-2!
Sunday, March 12 vs. Australia
Starting Pitcher: Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Yamamoto was virtually untouchable, allowing just one hit while striking out 8 in four innings of work. His mates provided him offense before he even stepped on the mound, though. Ohtani hit the deepest home run of the games so far, driving in three runs in the top of the first. In the second, Nootbaar continued to endear himself to the fans by driving in a run, and he also stole a base and scored on Kondoh’s double. In the fourth, Japan added a run on an Ohtani bases-loaded walk, and picked up their final run of the game in the next inning when catcher Yuhei Nakamura stroked a double to right. Australia got its lone run of the game on a ninth-inning home run (off Hiroto Takahashi). Perfect record for Japan, as they win 7-1!
So there you have it. Up next for Japan is Pool A second-place finisher Italy, The game will take place on Wednesday, as will Cuba vs. Australia. The winners of those games will travel to America to play in the semi-finals against the vanquishers of Pools C and D. We’ll be back with another newsletter at the end of the games. Have a great week!