Baseball America

Matsuzaka Keeps Japan Alive, Beats Mexico

ANAHEIM–In what was a life-or-death situation for both the Mexican
and Japanese teams in the World Baseball Classic, Japan lived to fight
another day.

Japan rode the strong arms of starting pitcher
Daisuke Matsuzaka and three relievers to shut down Mexico’s bats and
cruise to a 6-1 win. Japan moves to 1-1 in the three-game second round,
while Mexico falls to 0-2.

Mexico is eliminated unless a
labyrinthine combination occurs: They would need Korea to beat Japan,
and they would need to beat the U.S. 1-0 in a 14-inning game. Really.
Japan can insure its advance if it beats Korea, and scores seven or
fewer runs doing it (assuming a nine-inning game) under the tiebreaker
system.

Therefore, the U.S.’s fate will be decided largely
by Wednesday’s Japan/Korea game. If Korea wins, the U.S. will
automatically advance to the finals with a win Thursday over Mexico.

Matsuzaka,
a 26-year-old righthander, pitched brilliantly, going five innings and
facing just two batters more than the minimum. He gave up only one hit
and no runs, allowing two walks on 73 pitches. Mexico lofted six balls
out of the infield against Matsuzaka, none of which were threats to
drop for hits. And he remained characteristically humble after the game.

“I
was trying to be too accurate on the corners at the beginning, but I
started not to worry about it too much as my pitches were going really
well,” Matsuzaka said. “Both offense and defense gave me a huge lift. I
thank the position players.”

The position players most
deserving of thanks were first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara, who had a
two-RBI single in the fourth inning, and catcher Tomoya Satozaski, who
powered a two-run homer to right-center in that same inning.

“The
pitch was either a slider or a cutter,” Satozaski said of his home run
ball. “I only tried to advance the runner. I tried to hit it to the
opposite field.”

Miguel Ojeda smacked a solo home run for
Mexico in the bottom of the eighth inning, which roused the crowd of
16,591 from their slumbers, but it only trimmed the margin to 5-1.
Japan was in control, and Rangers hurler Akinori Otsuka pitched a
scoreless ninth inning to seal the deal.

Japan won despite
an uncharacteristic breakdown in fundamentals. Japan had been highly
praised by U.S. manager Buck Martinez as being very fundamentally
sound, but this game’s performance did little to show it. Japan
committed an error, botched one bunt, failed to run out another, and
had a runner thrown out trying to go from first to third on a single.
But solid pitching kept them in the game, and eventually won the day.

“We
want to thank Mr. Matsuzaka for his great pitching,” Japanese manager
Sadaharu Oh said after the game. “I’ve seen him play in the regular
season, and I was convinced if he could pitch his game versus the
strong Mexican hitters, we could win.”

Japan takes on Korea
in a major rivalry game on Wednesday. Korea previously beat Japan, 3-2,
in a Round One game. Mexico closes out against Roger Clemens and the
U.S. on Thursday. In their prior Round One tussle, the U.S. bested
Mexico 2-0. This time, Mexico will trot out Pirates hurler Oliver Perez
for the start.

International | #2006 #International Affairs #World Baseball Classic

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