Japan are the 2009 WBC Champions. But unlike 2006, there will be no disputing their right to call themselves such this time. A clutch two out two RBI single from Ichiro in the top of the 10th inning was enough to break a 3-3 tie and win the game for team Japan. Their thrilling victory over their fierce rivals in their 5th meeting this tourney, gave Japan a winning 3-2 record in games versus Korea for the 2009 WBC. And just like in 2006, Japan won the battle between the two teams when it really mattered, in front of over 50,000 fans at Dodger Stadium.
Iwakuma started for Japan and had a magnificent outing, going 7 and 2/3 innings, giving up two runs off four hits while striking out six. The Koreans started with Bong, who was at the helm for Japan’s two prior defeats against them.
Japan struck first in the top of the 3rd. Nakajima singled before Aoki reached on an error from the Korean second baseman to put men on first and second with no outs. Johjima then hit a groundout to third, and Aoki was forced out at second to put men on the corners with one out. Ogasawara then singled to right to bring home Nakajima for 1-0 Japan. Next man Uchikawa singled to load the bases before Kurihara hit into a double play to end the inning and a chance of a more generous lead for Japan.
Japan put men on first and second with no outs in the top of the 5th, but couldn’t bring home a run, and Korea would make them pay for not extending the lead in the bottom of the 5th. Shin-Soo Choo hit a solo homer to dead centre to tie things up at 1-1.
And tied the scores would remain until the top of the 7th inning. First man up Kataoka singled off Korean reliever Hyun Wook Jong (Bong had departed in the 5th after letting Nakajima and Aoki onboard). Kataoka promptly stole second during next man up Ichiro’s at bat, and Suzuki bunt singled himself on to put men on the corners with no outs. Nakajima then singled to leftfield to bring home his Seibu teammate Kataoka and edge Japan ahead 2-1. Aoki then flew out before Johjima hit into a double play as Japan continued to waste chances to take a bigger lead.
But extend the lead they would in the top of the 8th. Ogasawara got one of his trademark flailing strikeouts to start off the inning, then Uchikawa singled. Hyunjin Ryu then took the mound for Korea. DH Inaba, who had come into the game in the 6th for Kurihara, hit a drive down the first base line, the ball appeared to hit the first base bag and ended up in the crowd, and was called a ground-rule double. That put two men in scoring position with one away. Iwamura then hit a sacrifice fly to leftfield, Uchikawa scored and Japan looked to be home and dry at 3-1.
But the Koreans weren’t done yet, not by a long shot. In the bottom of the 8th, a Bum Ho Lee double put a man on second with no outs. A groundout then moved him to third before pinch hitter Dae Ho Loo hit a flyball to Aoki in centre and Bum Ho Lee came home to narrow the lead to 3-2. Sugiuchi came in to get the last out of the inning.
Japan left yet another two men on base in the top of the 9th, before the stage was set for Yu Darvish. Japan’s golden boy walked to the mound needing three outs to bring home the Championship for the Japanese. It was meant to be the fairytale ending, only the Koreans had obviously not read the script.
Things started out okay as Keun-Woo Jeong struck out swinging, before things started to stall a touch. Darvish walked Hyun-Soo Kim on four straight fastballs, and then five pitches later had walked Tae Kyun Kim to put men on first and second with only one away. Yu got things back on track with the strikeout of Shin-Soo Choo to put him and Japan one out away from glory. But next man up Bum Ho Lee then smacked the third pitch he saw through the gap into leftfield and the runner came home from second to tie the game at 3-3 with the winning run now at second. Darvish managed to hold himself together though, and struck out Young Min Ko to send the game into extra innings.
At this point, despite being heavily outhit by Japan, the momentum seemed to be with Korea. But the game would take a final twist in the top of the 10th. Yakult closer Lim Chang Yong, started the inning, his second for the evening. First man to the plate Uchikawa singled before Inaba sac-bunted to put the go-ahead run in scoring position with one out on the board. Iwamura then singled to left to put men on the corners. Kawasaki then pinch hit for Kataoka, and he flied out to short as it looked like Japan would leave yet more men stranded.
But up stepped Ichiro, and despite an indifferent WBC to that point, he came to the plate seeking his fourth hit of the game. And hit he did, hitting a line drive to centre to bring home the two runners (Iwamura from second after he had easily stolen earlier) and put Japan back in front at 5-3.
And so to the bottom of the 10th, where Darvish had a chance to do what he couldn’t manage in the 9th. And despite walking the first man he faced, a strikeout, a flyball to centre followed by the striking out of Keun-Woo Jeong was enough to spark wild scenes of celebration for the Japanese, and glum faces all around for the Koreans. 5-3 Final.
So Japan managed 5 runs off 15 hits, 0 errors and 14 men left on base.
Korea managed 3 runs off their 5 hits, 3 errors and left 5 men on.
Despite the narrow margin of victory, this was a game that Japan should have sunk far earlier than they did as they wasted chance after chance. Johjima was the main culprit, going hitless with a walk and leaving a whopping 11 men stranded. Ogasawara, despite his solitary hit and RBI was also guilty, stranding six himself with three of his trademark strikeouts. Ichiro had a four for six night, with the key hit of the game.
Well done team Japan on a magnificent performance and WBC as a whole. Some thoughts:
Ichiro: Indifferent. Blew hot and cold throughout the tournament. But it’s the clutch 2RBI WBC winning hit for which he’ll be remembered so that’s by the by.
Aoki: Featured less offensively in the final two games but has firmly established himself as NPB’s premier position player, along with Nakajima who was also magnificent. Those two will be in MLB before too long, of that there is no doubt.
Matsuzaka: What more needs to be said about this man. Was named the 2009 WBC MVP to go alongside the award he won in 2006.
Iwakuma: NPB’s premier starter, no question. Darvish take note: watch some tapes of Iwakuma’s last two starts of the WBC, and that’s what a top pitcher looks like. Able to perform under pressure on the big stage. Yu has some ways to go in that regard I feel.
Johjima: Signs of improvement over last year’s poor showing in Seattle with the bat, despite today’s woes. Added invaluable experience and nous behind the plate for team Japan though. Key player.
Ogasawara: He’s a chump but he did OKish in the end. Not convinced that he couldn’t have been replaced by any one of a number of players and the results would have been the same if not better though.
Uchikawa: Should have been used more regularly by Hara. Proved that last year’s monster year was no flash in the pan.
Sugiuchi: The SoftBank man was the key player out of the bullpen. 6 and 1/3 innings of no hit baseball. I need say no more.
Iwamura: Respectable performance with the bat, and a valuable experienced hand to have in the infield and on the team in general.
Fukudome: Unremarkable in every way, and tellingly didn’t feature at all in the final.
Inaba: Pretty good with the bat, but he’s not a cleanup man. At least not in a team with as much talent as this one.
Murata: Seemed a big loss when he limped off versus Korea in the Pool 1 seeding game, but Japan coped well without him. Proved he’s more than just a chubby slugger, hitting for good average and bringing home a lot of runs.
Tatsunori Hara: I’m torn. He did what he was hired to do and did the job no-one else (save Bobby V) wanted by bringing home the Championship. But as with Yomiuri, I can’t help feeling his teams win despite of him and not because of him. But fair play, he brought it home. He is now downgraded from a complete fuckwit to a mere chump in my eyes. At least until the NPB season starts when he’ll level back up to a fucking stupid dipshit (apologies for the language, sincerely).
Anyway, it’s over. What a tournament, and what an amazing final. Feel free to discuss WBC 2009 below and thanks, as always, for reading.