Japan comes up short in three-peat attempt

Updated: 2013-03-19 05:39

By Agence France-Presse in San Francisco (China Daily)

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Japan struggled at the plate and on the mound but the biggest knockout blow to its bid for a third straight World Baseball Classic tltle was a bungled steal in the eighth inning on Sunday.

Japan's base-running meltdown in the bottom of the eighth proved its biggest undoing in a stunning 3-1 loss to underdogs Puerto Rico at AT&T Park.

Japan had just scored its first run and was trailing 3-1 in the eighth when a promising looking late rally was derailed by a double steal attempt that backfired.

Takashi Toritani hit a one-out triple and scored on a single by Hirokazu Ibata. Puerto Rico pitcher Randy Fontanez was then replaced by J.C. Romero after Seiichi Uchikawa hit a single.

Japan comes up short in three-peat attempt

With Japanese slugger Shinnosuke Abe at the plate, Ibata broke as if to steal third base but then hesitated and headed back to second.

But unlike Ibata, Uchikawa - who was on first - did not stop until he got almost to second base. He was eventually tagged out for the second inning. Then Abe grounded out to end the inning.

"A double steal was attempted," said Japan manager Koji Yamamoto. "Ibata's start was a little delayed and that is what happened."

Even though it seemed to take the momentum out of the team's rally, Yamamoto said he had no second thoughts about trying it.

"Shinnosuke Abe was the hitter and moving forward to the next base is the right attempt. It failed but I don't regret the attempt," he said.

Yamamoto also defended starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, who got off to a slow start by allowing one run in the first and walking two of the first three batters.

"The environment was different but I don't think (Maeda) is the reason for the loss," he said.

Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics thanks to dominant pitching, with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka being named tournament MVP in 2006 and 2009.

It defeated Cuba 10-6 in 2006, with Ichiro Suzuki scoring three of Japan's runs. Three years later it faced South Korea in the final and had a 3-2 lead in the ninth when the South Koreans scored a run off Yu Darvish to send the game into extra innings.

"As a team we are all domestic players from Nippon baseball," Yamamoto said. "It is challenging to get adjusted before the season. Despite the challenges they really had the unity and fought hard in this game."

(China Daily 03/19/2013 page24)