Third-ranked Japan avoided an embarrassing upset with three late rallies, beaten a heartbroken Taiwanese side in 10 innings, 4-3. Chinese Taipei led the ballgame until the eighth innings and did not trail until the final frame, but could not piece together enough offence in the World Baseball Classic thriller.
Both teams threatened in the first two frames, but Chinese Taipei claimed the early advantage with a run in the third inning. Yen-Wen Kuo jumpstarted the offence with a double to centre off Atsushi Nohmi and was sacrificed to third.
Nohmi then walked a batter and hit another to load the bases, and surrendered a free pass to Szu-Chih Chou to drive in Kuo. Nohmi’s night was finished after 2 2/3. He gave up three hits and a pair of walks, striking out two.
Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang looked his vintage self against third-ranked Japan. Using a devastating sinker and some inspired defence, he worked around hits through six scoreless frames. Only one hit went for extra bases, a double into the corner in right by Yoshio Itoi in the fourth.
Taiwan put another run on the board in the fifth. Che-Hsuan Lin ripped a double down the right field line and Cheng-Ming Peng singled him home. With Japan scuffling, tt appeared the two-run advantage would be enough for Wang and the Taiwanese bullpen.
Masahiro Tanaka was the third pitcher out of the ‘pen for manager Koji Yamamoto. He looked the staff ace he was expected to be in the sixth and seventh frames, striking out four. He set all six batters down in those two innings, mixing an unhittable split-finger and mid-90s/low-150s fastball.
The Samurai would stun a coasting Taiwan in the eighth with a tenacious rally. Hirokazu Ibata started the frame with one of his three hits and moved to third on a Seiichi Uchikawa bouncer into the right field gap. Shinnosuke Abe, Japan’s cleanup hitter, got his first hit of the Classic in a big way, driving in Ibata with a single.
Uchikawa was out on a poorly executed bunt by Itoi, but Hayato Sakamoto broke out of his 2-for-15 slump with a run-scoring single to tie the contest. Taiwan got out of the inning, but were clearly stunned at the turn of events.
The shock wore off quickly for Peng and Chih-Sheng Lin. Peng laced a safety to right to lead off, and Lind drove him to third with a two-bagger against the suddenly floundering Tanaka. Chou drove in Peng to put Taiwan up again, 3-2, and the squad looked to have regained their momentum as Tanaka exited.
A grounder by Chih-Kang Kao turned into a two-base fielder’s choice as Lin got hung up going home, but avoided the tag long enough to keep runners at second and third. With only one out, reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi buckled down and induced a popout before giving way to Kazuhisa Makita, who would end the rally.
Taiwan once again held the lead and had their closer, Hung-Wen Chen on the hill. Chen got the first out, but walked Takashi Toritani, who swiped second base. Ibata stepped up with two outs and delievered another hit, scoring Toritani from second. That was all for Japan, but Taiwan once more needed a rally.
A single by Yi-Chuan Lin in the bottom of the ninth was a promising start, but Makita made an impressive dive in front of the mound to snare a blooped bunt, and Che-Hsuan Lin was forced to sacrifice with one out instead of none. Peng walked to put runners on the corners, but Makita struck out cleanup hitter Chih-Sheng Lin to send the game to extra innings.
Japan once more had its rally hats working. Ryuji Aikawa led off with a single and advanced to second on a walk. A sacrifice by Sakamoto put two runners in scoring position and Sho Nakata, who was 0-for-4, crushed a ball to the warning track in left. The ball was caught on the warning track, but the go-ahead run scored to give the home team, batting first against pool winners Taiwan, the lead for the first time.
Toshiya Sugiuchi entered for the bottom of the tenth, and gave up back-to-back hits with one out, but induced a twin killing to deliver an improbable victory for the Samurai.
Japan scored their four runs on 13 hits, only Itoi’s going for extra bases. Ibata had three hits to lead the squad, while Uchikawa and Sakamoto each had a brace. Japan left 10 runners on base, but hit a respectable .286 with runners in scoring position and struck out only twice.
Chinese Taipei had 11 knocks shared among nine batters. Peng and Chien-Ming Chang were the only hitters with a pair of safeties. A big difference in the game was the 11 strikeouts rung up on Taiwanese hitters, who hit .200 with baserunners on second or third.
Makita earned the win thanks to his own sacrificial defending, staying in the game despite landing awkwardly. He was one of seven pitchers to toe the rubber, with Sugiuchi earning the save.
Chen took the loss by allowing two runs in 1 1/3, walking two and giving up two hits. Wang pitched well enough for the victory, but the bullpen gave up four runs in four innings in relief and registered only one strikeout.
The victory will give Japan a day of rest before taking on the seventh-ranked Netherlands, who upset top-rated Cuba earlier in the day. First pitch is at 11 a.m. GMT on Mar. 10. No. 5 Chinese Taipei will have to regroup in only a few hours before taking on the top-rated team in the world, with the loser going home. The showdown commences at 10 a.m. GMT on Mar. 9.
Stay tuned for WBC results, recaps, and analysis.