Thursday, August 5, 2010

Japan 2 vs USA 4 - World University Baseball Championship Semi-final - August 5, 2010

The WUBC held its semifinals today after a quarterfinal round that was ridiculously non-competitive. Three of the four games were called in 7 innings, including Japan hammering Chinese Taipei 13-0. I was surprised that the Taiwanese couldn't do better after taking the USA to extra innings. The other two blowouts were as expected with the US beating Sri Lanka 11-0 and Cuba knocking off China 14-0.

In the only competitive match, Canada lost to Korea 7-4. Huge disappointment for them (and me) after finishing second in their pool, but not entirely unexpected. Canada beat China in a "ranking decider" and will now play the winner of Chinese Taipei and Sri Lanka (i.e. Chinese Taipei) in the 5th place game tomorrow.

Cuba defeated Korea 11-1 in the first semi-final today in yet another called game. But the match that everyone was waiting for was the nightcap between Japan and Team USA.

The Warmup

I got there two hours early to get a good seat because I expected a large crowd. I watched both teams warmup, both batting practice and infield, and it was an interesting contrast. The Americans were more relaxed and playful while Japan approached theirs with almost military precision. It was quite a show when Japan finished their infield as each player would take a sharp grounder and throw home while running in. The fans applauded the performance after it was over. Definitely worth watching if you ever have the chance.

Nick Ramirez

Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mikie Mahtook (LSU) play catch

Team USA kicks the ball around

Japan's Kisho Kagami (Hosei) helps out during infield

The Game

It was a picture perfect day at Yokohama Stadium, although a bit humid early on. Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt) got the start for Team USA. He's "only" 6'0" and 185 lbs, but he throws heat. His first pitch was 152 km/h (94 mph) and he hit that late in the game as well. He also showed a decent curve ball at times. He's considered one of the best college pitching prospects and will be a first-round pick in 2011.

His mound opponent was Yuki Saitoh (Waseda, above) who is probably Japan's #1 college pitcher. He's been famous here since he led his high school team to a national championship in 2006, and he'll be a top draft pick later this year.

So it looked to be a pitcher's duel, but it didn't start that way. Shota Ishimine (Tokai) worked a walk to lead off the game, fouling off a couple of tough pitches to stay alive. An errant pickoff throw from Gray allowed Ishimine to reach second (above). Kimio Watanabe (Kokugakuin, below), a 5'5" second baseman, followed with a 2-strike sacrifice that got Ishimine to third. Gray then unleashed a wild pitch that sailed to the backstop (it was scored as a passed ball for some strange reason) and Ishimine trotted home to give the visiting Japanese a 1-0 lead. Gray then struck out Daichi Suzuki (Toyo) and Hayata Itoh (Keio) to end the inning.

In the bottom half, Nolan Fontana (Florida) battled Saitoh for a 1-out base on balls. Jackie Bradley Jr. (South Carolina) followed with a bloop to right and Ryan Wright (Louisville) was hit to load the bases. George Springer (Connecticut) came up and Saitoh left one up in the zone that Springer crushed to left field. Grand Slam! Springer whooped it up as he rounded third (below), and was heartily congratulated at home plate. Saitoh settled down and retired Nick Ramirez (Cal State Fullerton) and Jason Esposito (Vanderbilt) to keep it 4-1.

In the second, Koichiro Matsumoto (Rikkio) led off with a double. A groundout by Yuichi Hasegawa (Kinki) moved Matsumoto to third and he scored on a chopper by Fumiya Araki (Meiji) to cut the deficit to 2. It was typical Japanese baseball, station-to-station, and a lot of fun to watch.

Daichi Suzuki fouls one off

Saitoh had some control problems in the second, hitting another batter and walking Fontana again, but Bradley grounded out to end the threat. After that, pitching took over the game. Gray was solid, going 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks. Saitoh lasted 6 frames, surrendering just 4 hits and 2 walks, as well as 3 HBP.

Andrew Maggi (Arizona State) bunts for a single here

The relievers on both squads were excellent. Masahiro Inui (Toyo) pitched a scoreless 7th for Japan and Tatsuya Ohishi (Waseda) struck out all 3 batters he faced in the 8th, hitting 150 on the gun. For Team USA, Noe Ramirez (Cal State Fullerton) relieved Gray and gave up a walk but struck out 3 in his 2 innings. The last batter of the game was Hasegawa (below), who hit a sharp grounder to third that Esposito snagged in a fine play, throwing to first to end the game.

This was a fantastic battle. It was great to watch the pitchers throw heat inning after inning. The two US pitchers were dominant as Japan only managed 6 baserunners and never more than one in any inning. Just that one mistake by Saitoh cost Japan the game, but that's baseball. There were no hits after the 5th inning and the game ended in just 2:26. It was a great game to watch and the 6,500 in attendance enjoyed the match, if not the final result.

I liked the linescore above. Both teams had twice as many runs as hits and errors. A rare sighting indeed. After this, both teams only managed two hits as you can see in the final below.

The USA now plays Cuba in the final on Saturday back at Jingu Stadium. I'm not sure I'll be able to go due to personal commitments but if you are in Tokyo, I would suggest you stop by.

Nick Ramirez skies one to center


One thing I liked about this game was the relative quiet. There were no promotions between innings, no annoying PA guys, no cheering sections, just two teams playing hard. The Japanese fans tried a few "Nippon Nippon" cheers near the end but they didn't last long with the way the US was pitching.

They should just do away with this tournament and have Japan, the US, and Cuba play; the other countries are not competitive at all. Out of 20 games so far, 13 have been called before 9 innings. Quite simply, only the US and Japan have good college baseball programs and it shows here.



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