Japan Downs Australia With Late Homers

2017 World Baseball Classic

TOKYO--Japan took a giant step toward advancing in the World Baseball Classic by winning its second straight game in Pool B at the Tokyo Dome Wednesday night.

Behind a superb effort by starting pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano and home runs from Sho Nakata and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Japan defeated upset-minded Australia 4-1 before a crowd of 41,408.

Japan (2-0) can now clinch a spot in the second round with a win over China on Friday or earlier pending the results of the Australia-China and Australia-Cuba contests on Thursday.

"It feels good have started with two victories," Japanese manager Hiroki Kokubo said. "We had not been playing well (in exhibition games prior to the start of the official World Baseball Classic games), but we managed to put it together these last two days."

Australia (0-1) put together a startling upset bid when it took the lead in the second inning on an opposite-field solo home run by catcher Allan de San Miguel.

Japan tied the score at 1-1 in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda, the hero in the team's tournament-opening victory over Cuba.

With the tension rising as the stalemate dragged on, Nakata gave Japan its first lead with a solo homer in the top of the seventh off Australian reliever Matt Williams. Nakata’s home run summed up the weak-link of an impressive performance by Australia. While Australian starter Tim Atherton was able to stymie Japan for four innings and reliever Lachlan Wells was equally impressive, Australia ran out of arms as the game reached the final innings.

Williams has not pitched in the States since 2010. The 30-year was 4-2, 3.86 for the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League this offseason.

"I wanted to come out swinging," Nakata said. "When I saw the first pitch come in for a strike, I took a full swing and was fortunate to hit it over the fence."

Tsutsugo, who also went deep the previous night against the Cubans, connected for a two-run shot in the top of the eighth off Jon Kennedy that gave Japan a 4-1 lead and iced the game.

"I'm feeling really good at the plate right now," Tsutsugo said. "Our team is playing great, and I don't think we should settle for anything less than the World Baseball Classic championship."

Sugano, 27, pitched 4.1 sharp innings before reaching the 65-pitch limit and was followed by four relievers, who combined to allow just one hit over 4.2 scoreless innings.

While Australia was turning to Williams, Japan countered with a dominant performance from 24-year-old righthander Kodai Senga, who threw two innings and struck out four to earn the win. Closer Kazuhisa Makita worked a scoreless bottom of the ninth to earn a save. Senga’s split-fingered fastball proved too much for Australia’s lineup.

"We were facing two of the three best pitchers in Japan," Australia manager Jon Deeble said. "Sugano and (Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei) Otani are probably the two best, but Senga is right up there with them."

Atherton started and delivered four innings of one-run ball for the Australians. Williams (0-1) took the loss after allowing Nakata's tiebreaking homer.

Australia returns to action against China on Thursday at 5 a.m. ET.