Japan tied a World Baseball Classic record with six home runs, breaking out of a tournament long slump and taking it out on an overwhelmed Netherlands team. The 16-4 victory ended in the seventh on the mercy rule, and the Samurai qualified for the semifinals in a sold out Tokyo Dome.
After hitting only .256 with a .271 slugging percentage in its first four games, Team Nippon unloaded against the Netherlands, sending no fewer than five batters to the plate in any inning. Japan scored in every inning, falling two short of tying their own WBC mark for runs in a game. Its total was the highest in the 2013 tournament, while the 17 hits tied Italy’s mark for highest in 2013. Japan did set a Classic record for total bases (38) and extra-base hits (10). Only Cuba can claim to have knocked six four-baggers in a game.
Takashi Toritani was the first Japanese player to send one yard, leading off the game with a four-bagger to right centre. The diminutive infielder is not known for his power, so his homer might have been considered to be a harbinger of the display to come.
Japan knocked veteran Orange starter Rob Cordemans out of the game in the second. Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a two-run homer and was followed by a double from the bat of Toritani. After a walk to Hirokazu Ibata, Seiichi Uchikawa sent them all home with a longball just to the left of dead centre. With the score 5-0 and still only one out, Cordemans hit the showers.
Kenta Maeda started for Japan and pitched remarkably. While Japan piled on run after run, Maeda set down the first five batters of the game before allowing the only hit against him in the second. Working low in the zone, he mixed breaking pitches with a strong fastball that was consistently in the low-90s/high 140s.
Atsunori Inaba became the oldest player to homer in the World Baseball Classic in the third, hitting a solo shot to make it 7-0. Though Maeda was pitching as if he had a one-run lead, Japan put the game utterly out-of-reach in the following frame. Yoshio Itoi, who had Japan’s only extra-base hits entering the game, blasted a dinger that travelled well over 400 feet to right centre.
Despite a 10-0 lead, Japan kept piling on, scoring without hitting a home run in an inning for the first time in the fifth. Ibata had a double and scored on a Shinnosuke Abe two-bagger.
After the Curt Smith safety in the second, Maeda sent down the next 10 Orange hitters and left after five complete innings and only 66 pitches. The right-hander struck out nine, one shy of Ubaldo Jiménez’s 2009 high-water mark.
Japan made it 12-0 in the sixth on a single by Sho Nakata and a two-bagger by Matsuda. Matsuda joined Toritani as Samurai to collect more than one extra-base hit in the game.
With Maeda out of the game, the Netherlands seized the opportunity to put a few runs on the board against Tetsuya Utsumi. Kalian Sams walked to start the frame and moved to second on a single by Andrelton Simmons. Roger Bernadina was plunked to load the bases, bringing up Wladimir Balentien, who hit over .300 against Utsumi in Japan in 2012.
The right fielder for the Orange delivered a bases-clearing blow to dead centre, legging out a double to make it 12-4. Andruw Jones drove home Balentien with a single, but got caught trying to stretch and was thrown out. The rally temporarily prevented the mercy rule from being effected, as it states that a team must be ahead by 10 or more after seven innings.
Japan but a final seal on the rout in the seventh, getting four runs of their own with only one swing. After singles by Ibata and Abe and a hit batter of Itoi, Hayato Sakamoto drove a pitch to deep left centre for a prodigious grand slam.
Maeda earned his second win and has yet to allow a run in 10 innings, striking out 15. Utsumi gave up all of the Orange’s runs in two-thirds of a frame, and Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Hideaki Wakui finished off the game.
Cordemans took the loss after giving up six runs on three homers, a double, and a single in 1 1/3. Tom Stuifbergen pitched two innings, striking out three, but gave up three earned runs on five hits. Kevin Heijstek did well in 2 2/3 frames, giving up one earned run on four hits, but avoiding the longball while striking out two. Berry Van Driel and Jonny Balentina finished off the game for the losers.
The Dutch will have to face Cuba for the right to go to the semifinals. They will square off again on Mar. 11 at 11 a.m. GMT. Japan will face the winner to determine seeding for the third round of play. Stay tuned for coverage of that important matchup and all other World Baseball Classic games.