The opener of Pool A of the 2013 World Baseball Classic (WBC) was expected to provide an interesting historical connection and an easy win for Japan, but baseball upstarts Brazil had other plans. The blue-and-gold got out to a 3-2 lead after five, and held it going into the eighth. The Samurai, however, showed veteran poise against Brazil’s inexperienced bullpen, pushing three runs across and making the lead hold for the victory.
Brazil had its bats working early, putting runners on base in the first five innings and out-hitting Japan 9-7 in the game. The blue-and-gold struck first, silencing a raucous crowd with a run in the first. Japan batted first in the tournament despite playing in the Tokyo Dome.
Paulo Orlando led off with an infield hit to the hole behind first and advanced to second when the throw by Takashi Toritano went wide. He moved to third on a fly ball by Burin before WBC Qualifier MVP Leonardo Reginatto rapped a single through the hole into left field to drive in Orlando.
Neither country scored in the second, but Japan pushed across the tying run in the third. Hayato Sakamoto led off with a single and was advanced to second on a bunt. Two batters later, cleanup hitter Yoshio Itoi stroked a safety to right to score Team Nippon’s first run.
The run was charged to Rafael Fernándes, a minor league pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). The right-hander got the start and hurled three innings, striking out two and working around five baserunners.
The Samurai took the lead in the top of the fourth. Ryoji Aikawa walked with one out and raced to third on a single to left by Nobuhiro Matsuda. Sakomoto lifted a fly ball to left and Aikawa had just enough time to cross the plate.
Brazil did not show any intimidation in the bottom of the frame and Reginatto was once more the hero. The third baseman blasted a two-bagger to left center and scored on a RBI-single by Reinaldo Sato. Despite a walk by J.C. Múñiz with two out, the blue-and-gold could not push across another run.
Brazil continued their upset bid in the bottom of the fifth, as Orlando laid down a gorgeous bunt that rolled even with the third base line until it hit the bag and stayed fair. He then stole second and was plated on another double by Reginatto. The two-base knock gave him hits in six of his previous seven WBC at bats. The number three hitter was left stranded at second to end the frame.
Manager Barry Larkin kept the ball in the hands of Murilo Gouvea, who had taken over for Fernándes in the fourth and finished with three frames of one-run ball. He struck out one and surrendered three baserunners.
Oscar Nakaoshi would enter for the seventh and after striking out two, it looked as if Brazil would have a chance to pull of the biggest shocker of its baseball history.
Japan’s bullpen arms gave the blue-and-gold fits from the sixth inning onward. As was the case in Panamá City, it became clear that would be Larkin and the bullpen who would secure the victory.
After dominating the 9-1-2 hitters in the seventh, Nakaoshi started the eighth against the heart of the order, but allowed Seiichi Uchikawa to reach on a line drive single down the left field line. Itoi, the cleanup hitter, sacrificed him to second, and pinch hitter Hirokazu Ibata stepped to the plate.
Nakaoshi, a southpaw, was left in to face Ibata, who ripped a game-tying single to right field to knock out Brazil’s hurler. Kesley Kondo entered and was greeted by an infield hit from Hisayoshi Chōno. A walk loaded the bases, and pinch hitter Shinnosuke Abe, the NPB Most Valuable Player in 2012, stroked a safety up the middle to give Japan the lead.
Matsuda, the nine hitter, flared a one-base hit to centerfield, and Japan had a 5-3 lead. Kondo exited in favour of Ernesto Noris, who retired Sakamoto to end the rally.
Atsushi Nomi relieved Tadashi Settsu to start the eighth. Settsu looked strong in his three-inning stint, striking out four and allowing a run on two hits. Nomi earned a hold with a three up, three down frame, striking out one.
The Samurai could not score against the 40-year old Noris, and after being only six outs away from a victory, Brazil had three batters of their own to take back the win. Manager Koji Yamamoto brought in closer Kazuhisa Makita, who had other plans for the blue-and-gold, mowing them down for the save.
Settsu was credited with the victory and Nakaoshi took the loss. Yamamoto used five pitchers in the contest, with Masahiro Tanaka starting and tossing two frames. He was removed after surrendering four hits and an unearned run, whiffing no one. Toshiya Sugiuchi followed with two more frames of one-run ball, allowing three basrunners with a strikeout.
Matsuda was the only Samurai to record two safeties, though five players reached base twice. Five different players had a single RBI, while Itoi had the only stolen base.
Reginatto once more had a three-hit game and both of Brazil’s doubles, raising his WBC average to .625 in four games. Orlando and Magalhães both had a pair of safeties. Orlando crossed the plate twice.
Brazil will attempt another upset less than a day later against Cuba on Mar. 3 at 3:30 a.m. GMT. Japan will look for their second victory against China at 8 a.m. GMT on the same day.
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