WBC: Japan 5, Cuba 0

A day after being  brushed aside so easily by Korea, Japan had to pick themselves up to face the Cubans for the second time in four days. This time however, there were no second chances, the loser would be heading home.

Japan rode to victory three days earlier on the back of six innings of five hit ball from starter Matsuzaka. After Darvish’s early troubles cost the Japanese dear on Tuesday, it was Iwakuma’s turn to step up to the mound with his nation’s status as WBC champs on the line.

And, what do you know, he was up to the task, matching Daisuke’s six inning and five hit shutout performance. Though Iwakuma’s performance wasn’t quite as sparkling as Matsuzaka’s, with two strikeouts (to Daisuke’s 8 ) and a solitary walk, it was exactly the performance Japan needed to get their WBC campaign back on track. Sugiuchi then came out of the bullpen to pitch three hitless innings and they had themselves a second consecutive shutout over the normally formidable Cubans.

Japan pulled in front in the top of the 4th off Cuban starter Maya. Aoki hit a one out single, followed by a double from Inaba to put men on second and third.  Murata then flew out to centre, but too shallow to score Aoki for the second out.  A huge slice of luck would then turn the game in their favour. Ogasawara came to the plate and hit a deep fly ball to centre.  Center fielder Cespedes, running back reached up with one hand to catch the ball but it bounced off his glove and rolled toward the outfield wall. Aoki and Inaba both scored on the error (both unearned) and Japan had themselves a 2-0 lead.

You could sense the atmosphere on the previously tense looking Japanese bench was revitalised from that point on.

And so it proved as they extended their lead in the next inning. Iwamura walked to open the 5th. Ichiro then popped up a bunt for the first out before Nakajima walked to put men on first and second. Aoki then singled through the middle allowing Iwamura home to put Japan 3-0 up.

Another run came in the 7th. Iwamura walked again before Ichiro singled to put men on first and third with no outs.  Nakajima then hit a sac-fly to left, Iwamura came home and it was 4-0 Japan.

And they wrapped up the scoring in the 9th, with Ichiro hitting a one out triple, Nakajima being hit by a pitch, and Aoki singling to bring home Ichiro for a 5-0 final.

So Japan managed 5 runs off 8 hits, 0 errors and 9 men left on base.

Cuba managed 0 runs off their 5 hits, 1 error and left 6 men on.

Other points of note:

Aoki is a god. The man was (aside from Iwakuma) easily the player of the game, batting 4 for 5 with 2 RBIs and a run. Unfortunately his continued excellence in the WBC means we’ll likely see him leave Tokyo quicker, so….shit what am I saying….!!? He had a mare.

Ichiro woke up with two hits, one of which was a trademark triple. When Ichiro hits, it seems to energise the team and Japan seems to win. Hopefully he’ll continue in the same vein from now on.

Iwamura also woke up, having a 2 for 2 night with two walks and two runs, while Jojima went hitless after his escapades of the previous day.

Murata had a hitless evening too after being moved from 4th to 5th in the lineup. Inaba was in the cleanup spot and had a 1 for 5 night with a run.

This was the first time since 1951 Cuba didn’t make the finals of one of the major international competitions. It seems of late, the Japanese have had the Cubans’ number, much like the Koreans seems to have theirs.

So it’s on to Japan vs Korea IV tomorrow. The loser will play Venezuela in the first semi-final at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, while the winner will face-off against the USA in the other semi on Sunday.

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

  • Christopher Amano-Langtree

    Inaba in fourth has been proven to be a waste and still Hara persists with him. Cuba kind of defeated themselves – their catcher abused the relief pitchers (Pesanto?) and their starter Maya was quite unreasonably pulled after the two runs. Japan kept their cool and so were able to win.

  • Rob

    It was hard to watch. Even with a five run lead I found myself waiting for it all to go off the rails.

    Sit Murata. Sit Ogasawara. Think about sitting Ichiro.
    Or don’t – the seeding game doesn’t matter that much, so treat it like a tune-up and give them a chance to wake up? But if they can’t get it together at the plate, sit them for Game One of the next round.

    And Inabi? How is Inaba hard to pronounce? Ogasawara is a mouthful, but Inaba should be doable.

  • Inaba in fourth has been proven to be a waste and still Hara persists with him. Cuba kind of defeated themselves – their catcher abused the relief pitchers (Pesanto?) and their starter Maya was quite unreasonably pulled after the two runs. Japan kept their cool and so were able to win.

    That’s Cuba for you. Pesanto is known for that kind of thing and the eccentric management is also a given.

    Yes, Cuba weren’t at their best but to shut out that kind of batting talent over the course of 18 innings is no mean feat, and for that Japan should be commended.

    I do agree that Inaba is no No.4 hitter. I don’t particularly mind seeing him in the lineup (though I would prefer Uchikawa), just not at cleanup.

  • I take the view that this Cuba team is just not nearly as good as they were cracked up to be. I would have gone with the headline: “¡Japón Si, Cuba No!

    I found it telling that the highly, deeply, passionately knowledgeable Puerto Rico and Venezuela fans surrounding me the past two nights were very afraid of facing Japan or Korea and never, not once mentioned Cuba. After Venezuela pounded a pathetically lackadaisical US last night, the Venezuelan baseball oracle sitting in front of me (this guy correctly and specifically predicted just about every play in the game) responded to my pro forma wish of good luck in LA with, “Neither one of these teams can beat Japan or Korea. Neither one. There’s no chance.”

  • Murata should be cleanup, but he’s not exactly on fire.

    And US announcers are going to have to learn how to pronounce Norichika Aoki. They’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in a couple of years.

  • Murata did alright against Korea, not pulling the ball. But he’s useless when he’s trying to hit one out of the park (well, useful for sac-flies), Petco and Dodger Stadium are far from Hamasta.

    Ichiro may have finally woken up in his last two plate appearances.

    Oh, and the placement match against Korea probably lost all meaning because Venezuela’s gonna start Silva in the semis instead of King Felix.

  • I found it telling that the highly, deeply, passionately knowledgeable Puerto Rico and Venezuela fans surrounding me the past two nights were very afraid of facing Japan or Korea and never, not once mentioned Cuba. After Venezuela pounded a pathetically lackadaisical US last night, the Venezuelan baseball oracle sitting in front of me (this guy correctly and specifically predicted just about every play in the game) responded to my pro forma wish of good luck in LA with, “Neither one of these teams can beat Japan or Korea. Neither one. There’s no chance.”

    This guy evidently knows his shit.