THUNDER BAY, Ontario, Canada—Battling the elements as well as facing the No. 1 seed in the U18 World Baseball Softball Confederation World Cup, Team USA took on both in a grueling day of baseball and came out the other side with a 4-0 win after two delays against Japan at Port Arthur Stadium on Saturday night.
After facing a game-time change because of a storm early in the day, Team USA arrived at the field before noon to prepare for its afternoon contest, only to be disrupted again by the rain during batting practice and eliminating any chance of starting the game on time.
One-and-a-half innings into the matchup, just moments after first baseman Triston Casas launched his first home run of the tournament to the opposite field in left give Team USA a 2-0 lead over Japan, the sky opened once more and took both teams off the field for another hour-and-a-half.
As it turned out, the delay might have been just what they were looking for, allowing the Americans to eat for the first time in seven hours—scarfing down apples, oranges and hot dogs from the concession stand—and forcing Team USA into its bullpen. The Americans went to aptly-named southpaw Ryan Weathers, who dominated the Japanese lineup for seven innings, allowing one hit, one walk, and using his low-90s fastball and sharp slider to strike out eight.
“That was just a superb performance, and that’s an understatement,” USA manager Andy Stankiewicz said. “I’m excited about the job he did for us. That was big, to be in pool play and to get to 2-0 is a big deal. That’s a very good team over there, so to get one against them in pool play is a huge step forward. Ryan Weathers, he stepped up big time.”
Understanding his role was to potentially start, or possibly be used as an option out of the bullpen, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Vanderbilt commit knew the weather could bring him in against Japan. He entered in relief of Landon Marceaux, and the delay allowed him to prepare like he would for a start on any other day.
"I knew going into the game that if something like that were to happen, a rain delay or anything, that I had a chance of going in," Weathers said. "Going in, I knew that when they got the tarp off I had 30 minutes, so I could get my normal routine in as if I was starting. So it helped me out a lot . . . (And being) up two (runs), it helped me mentally be prepared to go out there and do work."
Righty J.T. Ginn added two more strikeouts to Team USA's total and three hurlers combined to strike out 10 batters. Japan starter Kento Kawabata struck out 15 in 5.2 innings, but allowed six hits, six walks, four runs (three earned). Kawabata used an 86-90 mph fastball with a solid curveball and effective slider but needed 127 pitches. Japanese pitching struck out 23 as Fumimaru Taura fanned five in 2.1 innings and Shumpei Isomura struck out the side in his inning.
"It was interesting," Stankiewicz said. "(Kawabata) was good. That starter's got courage, and he wasn't backing own. He was making big pitches, and we just took advantage of some key hits to score some runs . . . When we get something that we like, we've got to take a shot at it. We can't wait around to get that two-strike count and then battle off a good slider and a good curveball that guy had today. We're putting ourselves in a tough spot."
The early home run that would eventually become the game-winner was one hit that did come out of a two-strike count for Team USA, as Casas choked up and widened his stance with two strikes in order to do some damage with a runner in scoring position.
"I was expecting what we got--a lot of good pitching and keeping us off balance all game, that's their game plan," said the 17-year-old Miami commit. "But my swing in the second inning, (Kawabata) was great out there, and he had me on the ropes all night. He just made a mistake 0-2, and I was able to put a good swing on it . . .
"I really didn't hit another pitch after that to be honest. I struck out three more times, and that just speaks to the volume of their pitching. I give them a lot of credit, but I was able to get on top of that one fastball, and that was the only ball I hit today."
Adding some insurance beyond Casas' home run, USA center fielder Michael Siani scored a third run, scoring from second on a passed ball in the fifth, and driving in another with a single in the sixth. He reached base four times.
"It's a big win, especially for us," Weathers said. "Now we know going forward that we just have to get one more and we’re into (the super round) and what we've been playing for the whole time . . . They had a great lineup, and I had a good outing, but I take nothing away from them. They're a great team. There's a reason why they're listed as the No. 1 team."
Notes from around the tournament:
After the second day of play in Thunder Bay, only two other teams remain undefeated, with Cuba defeating the Netherlands, 3-0, and Korea taking down Taiwan, 8-2. Australia beat Italy to see both teams go to 1-1 in the tournament, and both Mexico's game against South Africa and Nicaragua's contest against the host Team Canada were postponed because of the weather and are likely to be made up on the scheduled off day Wednesday.