Japan beat reigning Olympic champions South Korea 5-3 to retain the World Baseball Classic title in a thrilling contest at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. This was Japan's third victory in five meetings with their Asian arch-rivals.
AFP - Ichiro Suzuki's two-run single up the middle in the 10th inning Monday gave Japan a thrilling 5-3 victory over South Korea and a second consecutive title in the World Baseball Classic.
The Japanese squad defended their crown from the inaugural 2006 Classic by outlasting the reigning Olympic champions in the title game, their third victory in five meetings with their Asian arch-rivals in this year's Classic.
Japan pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka won his second consecutive Classic Most Valuable Player award, the Boston Red Sox ace having gone 3-0 for the second Classic in a row and won a semi-final over the United States a day earlier.
A Classic-record crowd of 54,846 jammed Dodger Stadium for the title game, with loud flag-waving supporters of both sides creating an electric atmosphere and being rewarded with an epic battle.
Lee Bum Ho's run-scoring single with two out in the ninth inning equalized for South Korea to force extra innings, but Japan struck for two runs in the 10th thanks to Suzuki, a Major League Baseball star with the Seattle Mariners.
Seiichi Uchikawa opened the 10th with a single, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Atsunori Inaba and took third on a single by Akinori Iwamura, who took second on defensive indifference after pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki flew out.
That set the stage for Suzuki's blast up the middle off Korean relief pitcher Lim Chang Yong, who struck out Kenji Johjima with the bases loaded to deny Japan more runs.
Nippon Ham Fighters star right-hander Yu Darvish, who could not hold a one-run lead in the ninth, again tried to finish off South Korea in the 10th.
After an opening walk to Lee Dae Ho, he struck out Choi Jeong, induced a fly out by Lee Yong Kyu and struck out Jeong Keun Woo to secure the title, raising his arms in the air to celebrate before being mobbed by teammates.
Japan had denied Korea in the 2006 Classic, beating them in a semi-final.
The final was the fifth meeting of the Classic between the teams, with Japan winning 14-2 in round one at Tokyo and 6-2 in round two in San Diego while the Koreans won 1-0 at Tokyo and 4-1 in San Diego, Bong taking both wins.
Japan took a 3-1 lead in the eighth after Uchikawa singled, took third on Atsunori Inaba's double and scored on Akinori Iwamura's sacrifice fly.
But South Korea answered in the eighth when Lee Bum Ho opened with a double, advanced on a ground out and scored on pinch-hitter Lee Dae Ho's fly out to deep centerfield, lifting the Koreans within 3-2.
That set the stage for a drama-filled ninth, with Japan only three outs from a title repeat.
Japan inserted Darvish to induce the last outs, but one-out walks to Kim Hyun Soo and Kim Tae Kyun brought up Choo Shin-Soo, who had blasted a home run in the fifth inning.
Darvish struck out Choo in a tension-filled at-bat, bringing Korea's last hope to the plate in Lee Bum Ho, who smacked a single to left field that drove in the tying run and sent the game into extra innings.
Japan's Hisashi Iwakuma, last year's Most Valuable Player in Japan's Pacific League, baffled Korean hitters early, surrendering two runs on four hits over 7 2/3 innings with six strikeouts, throwing 55 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
Iwakuma, whose 21-4 season for the Rakuten Eagles last year was the best by any Japan League pitcher since 2003, kept South Korea hitless for 3 2/3 innings before Kim Hyun Soo's single broke up the righthander's bid for a perfect game.
Choo, Korea's only Major League Baseball player, blasted a homer over the centerfield wall to level the game 1-1 in the fifth. But Choo was the only Korean to reach second base in the first seven innings.
Japan seized a 2-1 lead in the seventh thanks to Yasuyuki Kataoka, last in the Japanese batting order. He singled and swiped second, his Classic-high fourth stolen base for a team that led the tournament in steals.
Ichiro Suzuki's bunt single advanced Kataoka to third and Norichika Aoki followed with a single to left field to score Kataoka. Suzuki took third on a fly out but a stunning double play by South Korea stranded him without scoring.
South Korea left-hander Bong Jung Keun, a former US major league pitcher who defeated Japan twice in the Classic, could not extend his mastery, allowing one run on six hits in four innings while walking three with only one strikeout.
Japan put runners in scoring position in the first two innings to no avail but broke through in the third after Hiroyuki Nakajima singled and Aoki reached on an error by Korean second baseman Ko Young Min.
Nakajima took third on a Kenji Johjima fielder's choice and scored the game's first run when Michihiro Ogasawara singled to right field.
Seiichi Uchikawa followed with a single to load the bases but Kenta Kurihara hit into an inning-ending double play.
Date created : 2009-03-24