Raw Japan

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Asia’s baseball classic

March 24, 2009

BASEBALL-WORLD/Say, Amen, somebody!

The creators of the World Baseball Classic envisioned a global tournament spread over at least two continents and multiple time zones, featuring the greatest players and national teams possible.

That baseball aim, largely achieved in the inaugural 2006 event and even more so this year, may not completely jibe with the all-Asian WBC final between Japan and South Korea in LA on Monday, but no fan of the sport’s finest would complain after an thrilling extra-inning game that ended in a 5-3 win to Japan.

Back home in Japan and South Korea, it was office hours on Tuesday but work stopped as fans gathered in TV stores, in front of huge stadium screens or around TV-equipped mobile phones to watch the two Asian rivals slug it out.  South Korea overturned a day-time television ban to let prison inmates watch the game while forex trading in Seoul trading rooms ground to a halt from the opening pitch.

 

Obviously, some holes remain in the tournament, such as MLB team buy-in and particularly scheduling, which led to an incredible fifth pairing of the Asian rivals in a 16-team tournament.

But there were reasons why Japan, the defending WBC titleholders, and South Korea, the Olympic champs, dispatched Venezuela, Cuba and the U.S. in a convincing progression to the final. Their play underscored baseball fundamentals of teams over individuals, as well as having a pitcher or three.

Japan, in particular, often appeared chess-like in its non-blowout WBC games, leading to a Fischer-Spassky final with South Korea, with 1st inning sacrifice bunts, plate tectonic “one continent at a time” baserunning — all with the luxury of stellar pitching and defense.

BASEBALL-WORLD/

Hisashi Iwakuma, Japan’s right-handed starter, held the Seoul side scoreless for four innings until the Cleveland Indians’ Shin-Soo Choo dented his until-then perfect tournament E.R.A to even the score at 1-1.

Iwakuma exited in the bottom of the 8th sporting a 3-2 lead, with Japan’s defenders, including pitching prodigy Yu Darvish, left to seal the deal.

As was often the case during the WBC, Ichiro Suzuki came to the plate at a crucial moment – two on, two out in the 10th with the score at 3-3.

Unlike a mostly mortal tournament until then, Japan’s greatest hitting export to MLB lined a single up the middle, giving Darvish the win and his side Asian bragging rights it would not surrender.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Mike Blake, REUTERS/Mark J. Terrill/Pool

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