WBC: Japan 0, Korea 1

Well what a difference a day makes. Korea, wounded by their trouncing at the hands of Japan on Saturday evening, took out their frustrations on China on Sunday. They eliminated the Chinese from the competition with a 14-0 demolition, called after 7 due to the mercy rule. The Koreans were aided by some appalling fielding by China, but make no mistake, it was a thumping statement of intent.

And so to Monday evening at Tokyo Dome, with the two old foes matching up for the right to be the No.1 seed from the Tokyo round/Pool A of the WBC (a.k.a. the right not to face Cuba first-up in San Diego).

The game resembled how games between these two teams have tended to be in recent years (besides Saturday’s anomaly), tight and cagey affairs.

Korean starter Bong, combined with three relievers to shut out the Japanese bats, limiting them to six hits over the distance.

Japan’s pitching was none too shabby either, with starter Iwakuma giving up the game’s only run in the 4th inning. The Rakuten ace gave up only two hits in his 5 1/3 innings of work, but just didn’t get any run support from his teammates.

Japan’s bats, so lethal just two days before, more closely resembled their laboured performance from the China game. Though it has to be said they were facing an entirely different standard of pitching this time around. They had their chances but just couldn’t get that big hit when it mattered.

Team Japan manager and all around bonehead Tatsunori Hara also showed his tendency to meddle to try to force the game when things don’t go his team’s way.

Firstly he replaced Yokohama’s hot hitting Uchikawa, who had such a solid game on Saturday, with the utterly, utterly, utterly ineffectual Yomiuri-man Ogasawara halfway through the game. Ogasawara then proceeded to contribute one of his trademark flailing strike-outs in the 7th inning, followed by a feeble broken-bat grounder to ultimately end the game in the 9th.

More worryingly, he conspired to mess up Japan’s best late chance to get back into the game in the 8th. Yakult’s ace closer Lim took the mound for Korea and promptly struck out the underperforming Iwamura. Ichiro then hit a one out single, his only hit of the game, to occupy first. Next up came shortstop Nakajima, one of the Japan’s star performers thus far in the classic. As he came to the plate the scoreboard showed his batting average at .500. So with one of your best hitters at the plate, and one of your fastest base runners on first, what do you do? Why instruct the batter to sacrifice bunt of course! And sacrifice he did, moving Ichiro to second, while another red light appeared by the large “O” on the scoreboard. Up came Aoki, who promptly grounded out to end the inning, leaving Ichiro stranded and Japan’s only slugger Murata to take his place in the field rather than come to the plate with men on base.

Hara. You. Are. An. Incompetent. Foolish. Fool.

Hopefully this kind of idiocy will not be a sign of things to come in later rounds, though I strongly doubt it.

Lim then sat down Murata, Inaba and useless fukwit Ogasawara in order in the 9th and that was the game.

Also of note for Japan was the performance both with the bat and behind the plate of catcher Kenji Jojima who looked commanding, punishing several Korean baserunning errors with ease.  Jojima also went 2 for 3 in the game and is now batting at .500 in the competition.

So then, it’s: WBC Tokyo Round Winners: Korea. Runners-Up: Japan.

From Tokyo, the two teams now move to San Diego for the next round of the competition. Japan will face Pool B winner (likely Cuba) at PETCO Park on Sunday afternoon, while Korea face Pool B runner-up (likely Mexico or Australia) on Sunday evening in the first of the double elimination games in Pool 1.

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • I showed up at Narita airport today and immediately realized I’d forgotten my passport – very uncharacteristic of me. I wheedled and begged my way into a ticket on tomorrow’s flight + a $200 penalty, but it’s better than losing my entire non-refundable, inalterable ticket altogether. On the train home, dejected and furious with myself, I realized my passport had been in my inside jacket pocket the whole time.

    I can only attribute my idiocy to Mr. Watkins being right that my rage over sacrifice bunting, especially with one out, accomplishes nothing other than to push my blood pressure up – in this case clearly causing an 18-hour idiocy hangover.

    One moral of this is that stupidity is catching. Beware all of you who take in Giants or Team Japan games. What Hara has can spread.

  • Christopher Amano-Langtree

    A very nice analysis of the game. It is also interesting to note (others provided the figures) that Nakajima has bunted 7 times in a seven year career of which four were failures. It must be a Gomiuri default – when in doubt bunt.

  • Patomaru

    Garrett, if it makes you feel better about being upset about Hara calling the bunt, you are in good company. According to SI, Fidel Castro also didn’t view the move too kindly on his blog, saying “He took Japan to task for bunting in the eighth inning of a one-run game against Korea. (“an error whichever elemental way it is analyzed”).”

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/tom_verducci/03/10/wbc.five.cuts.tuesday/index.html?eref=T1

  • Hara’s Thought Process (bottom of the eighth):
    Ichiro on first, right-handed pitcher…nope, can’t stand it any longer. MUST MOVE RUNNER TO SECOND NOW!!!

    Phew. OK. There. Now I feel better because I told that guy to bunt.

    Wait. How many outs are there?

    OK, good! We have a man on second now, yeah, Ichiro’s on second. Fast guy, that Ichiro. That guy can steal bases like nobody’s business.

    Wait, what happened? Why is Nakajima walking back to the dugout. Did he strike out? There are two red lights turned on next to the big “O” up on the scoreboard. That’s weird. Nakajima’s been on fire lately. Huh. I’ll have to ask somebody about that later.

    OK, so now Ichiro’s on second. Maybe this would be a good time to bunt. Yeah! They’d never see that one coming…

  • Garrett’s not the only one who hated the bunt:

    Fidel Castro’s Reflection on Second Baseball Classic

    Reflections by Comrade Fidel

    I am trying to follow the events of the Baseball Classic, thanks to our national television services.

    The game between the teams from Japan and South Korea, Cuba’s strongest opponents, took place on Monday March 9. The score was 1-0 in favor of the latter and Japan only had two more opportunities to bat.

    The dangerous and emblematic Ichiro, who had already failed on three occasions, hit a single.

    The Japanese coach ordered a bunt from the second – and without doubt first-rate – batter of the team, and as a result, presented the opponents with their second out.

    I am sure that, for our experienced team, that would seemed an error whichever elemental way it is analyzed.

    The Japanese team is excellent; I would like our victory in the Classic to be achieved at the expense of this team; a team that has tremendous technical expertise.

    That will not happen if we slide into the carelessness that I observed during the match between Cuba and South Africa on the afternoon of Sunday, March 8.

    Both Olivera and Paret were left stunned at first base and Michel Enríquez gave away an out with an irrational advance towards second base after batting a hit, possible too agitated during his run from the base by the order of the coach.

    As could be appreciated, that game would have been won on the mercy rule in seven innings, with six homeruns – two from Cepeda – and a record in the Classics. That would have elevated the well-deserved prestige of Cuban sport.

    I allow myself to make this criticism because it concerns three exceptional athletes, with tremendous shame, but also confidence in themselves.

    They know that they are representing wholesome sport in this international competition. I must express my opinions with honesty and admiration.

    Fidel Castro Ruz, March 9 2009, 11:14 a.m.

    (Translated by Granma International)

    So, if Hara is listening – Cuba ain’t gonna bunt in that situation. They know better, and their coach seems like he’s under very specific orders to swing.

    I find it interesting that something supposedly coming from Castro himself acknowledges that Nakajima is the better hitter (at least this month) on the Japanese team.

    Cuba-Japan Monday 6am. A replay of the last WBC final. Should be one worth getting up early for.

  • .. and Fidel calling the shots via his keitai.. should be interesting to say the least..

  • I never, in a million years, thought I would look at anything in Granma, much less a message from Fidel, and regard with anything other than derision and contempt. First, a disclaimer and a plea to guys in South Florida who will be in the stands at Dolphin Stadium with me in just a couple days: I don’t get it, either, but Fidel was right, guys.

    OK, OK. Uncle.

    Fidel was right.

    Kenzo, I think we spent too much time in the Tokyo Dome last week if we’re surprised that a careful watcher of the WBC so far would have come to any conclusion other than that Nakajima was the superior hitter. Only in the Big Egg do fame and posing count for more than performance. Ichiro’s great, but Nakajima’s been playing better.

    Maybe we need to make T-shirts. Pellegrini and I could revive our stalled brand of dictator wear.

    Hara strapped into the torture chair with Fidel standing next to him. saying: “That would seemed an error whichever elemental way it is analyzed.”

    Or something more subtle. We’d sell only two or three (depending on how many I buy), but it would be fun.

  • I still don’t get it. There was a right-handed pitcher on the mound with Ichiro perched menacingly on first pace.

    A right-handed pitcher!

    How many people would bet against Ichiro’s chances of swiping second in that situation? I wouldn’t.

    I don’t know, maybe it was an ego thing on Hara’s part. He could be growing tired of being upstaged by Ichiro, and he didn’t want Ichiro’s steal being sold by the media as the reason why the team made a comeback. Maybe that’s why he chose to get involved…?

    Or maybe he’s still subconsciously upset with Nakajima and the Saitama Lions for ruining his party at the end of last season. Maybe that’s why he made him take one for the team.

    I just don’t get it. And unfortunately for Team Japan, Hara probably doesn’t either.