Japan Earns Olympic Berth

Japan defeated Taiwan 10-2 in the Asian Baseball Championships to become the fifth team to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The United States and Cuba qualified for the Olympics in September of 2006 at the Americas Qualifying Tournament. They will be joined by the Netherlands, which won the European championship last September, and China, which gets an automatic bid as the host nation.

Japan’s Yu Darvish limited Taiwan to two runs on three hits in seven innings to pick up the win. Japan started the scoring in the top of the first, when Takahiro Arai drove in the first run of the game with a single. Japan held that 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, when Taiwan’s Peng Cheng-Min hit a two-out single and later scored when Chen Chin-Feng homered to give Taiwan a 2-0 lead.

The lead didn’t last long, though, as Japan piled on six runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 7-2 lead. Japan did all of its scoring in the inning without an extra-base hit, laying down a pair of bunts and advancing runners with six singles.

In the ninth inning, Japan added three more runs, two of which scored on a home run by Arai.

South Africa went undefeated at the African Continental Qualifying Championships in Johannesburg in December to earn a spot in the second-chance Olympic Qualifying event in Taiwan. South Africa finished the event with a 5-0 record, including a 12-2 victory over Nigeria, which finished in second at 3-1.

In March, South Africa will join Australia, Canada, England, Mexico, Spain, South Korea and Taiwan at the second-chance tournament. The top three teams will earn the final three berths for the 2008 Olympics.

Greg Hamilton, the national team director of Baseball Canada, questioned the timing of the tournament, saying that it puts teams trying to work with players affiliated with Major League Baseball at an unfair disadvantage.

“If teams get a phone call from us to ask for players and we need them from about March 7 to March 15, and we need to take them to Taiwan, and we want 40-man roster guys, they’ve have to question our sanity, and I don’t blame them,” Hamilton said. “They will not allow any competitive pitchers to play in any event at that time of year; the teams just are not going to gamble.”

Hamilton also noted that the International Baseball Federation is putting unnecessary strain on its relationship with Major League Baseball.

“In the big picture, the real problem I’m having is we’re not putting organizations or the players or Major League Baseball in position to help us,” Hamilton said. “We should view them as our partners, as our greatest assets, but we don’t work toward that.

“IBAF needs to appease our partner, and remember that MLB is its partner because it wants to be, not because it needs to be.”

IBAF also announced that Nicki Vance will be the federation’s new anti-doping manager. Vance, an Australia native, has more than 19 years of experience in the anti-doping industry. She worked with the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2001.