Team USA Beats Japan In Ninth

ANAHEIM–Alex Rodriguez came through in the clutch, delivering a
bases-loaded, two-out single in the ninth inning off the glove of
pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa that scored Randy Winn to deliver the United
States a nail-biter of a 4-3 victory.

But mere minutes earlier, four runs would only have been good enough to tie Japan.

run for Japan was taken off the board in the eighth inning, when speedy
second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka attempted to tag and score from third
base on a fly to shallow left field hit by Akinori Iwamura. Nishioka
scored easily, but was called out on appeal for leaving third base
early. The game was tied 3-3 at the time, and remained as such, paving
the way for Rodriguez’ ninth-inning heroics.

“I saw the
angle of the baserunner and the left fielder, and thought he left
early,” said U.S. manager Buck Martinez, who raced onto the field to
appeal the call. “Everybody on the bench reacted the same way, which
validated what I thought was happening. I had a real good look at it.”

Nishioka off on appeal resulted in the third out of the inning, but
Japan did not immediately take the field for the bottom of the eighth
until after manager Sadaharu Oh concluded a lengthy conversation with
the umpires, amid booing from the Anaheim crowd. It was eventually home
plate umpire Bob Davidson, a 15-year major league veteran, who made the
final call. The umpires released a postgame statement indicating that
in their mechanics, the home-plate umpire has that call when the bases
are loaded, as they were in this instance.

Oh was politely
reserved after the game, but stuck to his guns. “The home-plate umpire
overruled the judgment. I just believe that the closest umpire should
have the same equal right to judge,” he said. “It’s a pity that it was

One way or another, a huge walk-up crowd with a
heavy Japanese fan contingent got its money’s worth, with a dramatic
game settled on the final pitch. The crowd of 32,896 also saw things
get started with a bang. Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki greeted U.S.
starting pitcher Jake Peavy rudely with a leadoff home run to left off
a 2-0 count. Peavy went five full innings in his first-ever appearance
at Angel Stadium, yielding Japan’s three runs. He was outdueled by
Japanese starting pitcher Koji Uehara, who also went five and left with
a 3-1 lead. The only run the U.S. managed off Uehara was Chipper Jones’
towering second-inning solo home run into right-center.

“I am glad that I ended up giving up only one run,” Uehara said. “I was able to pitch with patience. I think it was a good job.”

U.S. tied things up in the sixth when Derrek Lee roped a two-run homer
to the left-center batter’s eye, scoring himself and Jones, who had
walked ahead of him.

Japan threatened in the ninth inning,
when first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara led off with a walk.
Pinch-hitter Norichika Aoki laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt to
advance him to second, and he later advanced to third on a ground out.
But after two more walks by pitcher Brad Lidge loaded the bases, Lidge
struck out Hiyoshi Tamura swinging to end the threat.

U.S. ninth-inning rally started when Vernon Wells reached on an infield
single to the left side, and Randy Winn reached safely when second
baseman Nishioka, covering first base on Winn’s sacrifice bunt attempt,
pulled his foot off the bag. The U.S. had men on first and second with
no out when relief pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa expertly fielded Michael
Young’s subsequent bunt and nailed Wells at third.

Jeter was hit in the back by a Fujikawa pitch, loading the bases with
one out. After Ken Griffey Jr. struck out on a full count, Rodriguez
hit one right back through the box, glancing off Fujikawa’s glove and
into center field to score the winning run.

“I definitely
felt very proud,” Rodriguez said. “It was the first opportunity of this
sort that I had, and I was very happy to make that hit.”

recorded the win for the U.S. with Fujikawa taking the loss. Next up,
the U.S. faces Korea on Monday, while Japan takes on Mexico on Tuesday.