Ichiro delivers as Japan wins WBC title
Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th, and Japan beat reigning Olympic champion South Korea 5-3 Monday night to win its second straight WBC title before a boisterous crowd of 54,846 at Dodger Stadium.
The Japanese won the inaugural tournament three years ago, beating Cuba 10-6 in the finals at Petco Park in San Diego.
South Korea had tied the game at 3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Lee Bum-ho’s run-scoring single off Japanese closer Yu Darvish (2-1), who got in trouble by issuing one-out walks to Kim Hyun-soo and Kim Tae-kyun, the 3-4 hitters in the lineup.
Darvish struck out Choo Shin-soo before Lee lined a 1-1 pitch into left field, with pinch runner Lee Jong-wook scoring easily from second.
Seiichi Uchikawa opened the 10th with a single, was sacrificed to second and took third on a single by Akinori Iwamura. After pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki popped out, Iwamura took second on defensive interference.
Suzuki managed to foul off a pitch after it had bounced then lined the eighth pitch of the at-bat from Lim Chang-yong (1-1) to center for his fourth hit. The Mariners’ star entered with a .211 average and three RBIs in eight previous games.
Given the lead, Darvish worked around a leadoff walk to retire South Korea in the bottom of the 10th, setting off a wild celebration when he struck out Lee Jin-young to end the four-hour game.
Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka won the MVP award for the second straight time after going 3-0 — the same record he had in the inaugural Classic. The Boston Red Sox right-hander had a 2.45 ERA in 14 2-3 innings over three starts.
The game was the latest in an intense rivalry between the Asian powerhouses — a Far East version of a Yankees-Red Sox matchup. They split four previous games in this 16-team tournament, with Japan’s 6-2 triumph in San Diego last Thursday giving it the Pool 1 title in the second round.
Two days earlier, South Korea won a 4-1 decision, and its players planted the nation’s flag on the mound afterward—not the first time that’s happened. Suzuki made sure it wouldn’t happen on this night. Suzuki is 6-for-10 in two WBC title games.
South Korea beat Japan twice last summer in the Beijing Olympics en route to the gold medal. The South Koreans also beat Japan twice in the inaugural WBC three years ago before the Japanese won their semifinal matchup. And South Korea beat Japan 3-1 to win the bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics after losing to its rival 8-0 earlier in the Games.
Japan, which outhit South Korea 15-5, blew several scoring opportunities and stranded 14.
Japan took a 3-1 lead with single runs in the seventh and eighth. Yasuyuki Kataoka singled off Jong Hyun-wook to open the seventh, stole second, took third on Suzuki’s bunt single and scored on Hiroyuki Nakajima’s single. Japan had a chance to blow the game open, but after Suzuki took third on Norichika Aoki’s fly to deep right, Kenji Johjima grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Iwamura’s sacrifice fly off Hyunjin Ryu in the eighth gave the Japanese a two-run lead. The run was charged to Jong, who left after giving up a one-out single to Uchikawa. Atsunori Inaba followed with a ground-rule double before Iwamura’s fly to left.
South Korea got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Lee doubled, took third on an infield out and scored on pinch hitter Lee Dae-ho’s sacrifice fly. Toshiya Sugiuchi relieved after starter Hisashi Iwakuma issued a two-out walk to Park Ki-hyuk, and retired Lee Yong-kyu on a liner to left.
Iwakuma, a 27-year-old right-hander who won 21 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last year, worked 7 2-3 innings, longest outing of the WBC, and allowed just four hits and two runs. He walked two, struck out six and threw 97 pitches—three shy of the maximum.
Japan took a 1-0 lead with an unearned run off Bong Jung-keun in the third on Michihiro Ogasawara’s RBI single, but it could have been a lot worse because Japan loaded the bases with one out before Kenta Kurihara grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Choo tied the game by hitting a 1-1 pitch from Iwakuma over the center field fence to open the fifth for his second homer in as many games. Iwakuma allowed only one baserunner in the first four innings.
Bong allowed six hits and one run in four-plus innings with three walks and one strikeout while using 94 pitches. Jong relieved with runners at first and third and nobody out in the top of the fifth and worked out of trouble, striking out two before catcher Park Kyung-oan threw out Aoki trying to steal second.
Bong, a 28-year-old left-hander who pitched in 48 big-league games with Atlanta and Cincinnati from 2002-04, beat Japan twice earlier in the WBC, giving up six hits and one run in 10 2-3 innings
An elaborate ceremony was held beforehand, with the teams entering the field in single file from their respective bullpens before lining up down the first and third baselines. Among those participating was Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese career home run leader who managed the Japanese to the WBC title three years ago.
Then after the Japanese, South Korean and United States national anthems were played, the players met in the middle of the diamond to shake hands before and Hall of Fame manager and WBC global ambassador Tom Lasorda and former Dodgers pitching star Fernando Valenzuela, a native of Mexico, threw ceremonial first pitches.
South Korea advanced to the championship game by beating Venezuela 10-2 Saturday night, and Japan earned its berth by topping the U.S. 9-4 Sunday night.