Bear with me here. I was up early, like 11pm EST early, watching the World Baseball Classic’s Opening Day. Chien-Ming Wang came out crazy strong, pitching Chinese Taipei (i.e. Taiwan) to their first win of the tournament. Wang is now the buzz of every General Manager in North America with a pitching slot to fill.
Anyone want to take the over/under on how quickly the New York Mets will screw this up?
As feel good as a story as Chinese Taipei is, that wasn’t the most exciting game of the day. Two-time defending champion Japan rallied to beat Brazil 5-3 in its opening game of the World Baseball Classic. You heard me…they had to rally.
Japan trailed 3-2 before adding three runs in the top of the eighth inning in front of a crowd of 28,181 at the Fukuoka Dome. Hirokazu Ibata came off the bench to tie the game with a single to right that scored Seiichi Uchikawa from second. Japan took a 4-3 lead when Ibata scored from third on a fielder’s choice and added an insurance run on Nobuhiro Matsuda’s single to center that scored Hisayoshi Chono.
“This was a very difficult game for us,” Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said, reported by the New York Daily News. “Brazil put up a very good fight. But we got some timely hits in the eighth and were able to make a comeback.” Brazil, managed by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, looked ready to pull off an upset when the tournament debutantes took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning on a double by Leonardo Reginatto that scored Paulo Orlando from second.
“These players love to compete,” Larkin said, reported by the New York Daily News. “They love a challenge and this was a challenge similar to the qualifiers when we beat Panama. I’m extremely proud of the way my players performed in this game.”
I’m not going to lie. If you didn’t catch this game, Brazil is a pretty exciting team and Barry Larkin looks mighty comfortable as a manager. I wonder if he’ll be in the conversation when the managerial merry-go-round begins midseason.
Japan now launches to the top of pool A, which includes 2006 runner-up Cuba and China. Two teams from the group will advance to the March 8-12 second round at Tokyo Dome with a chance to move on to the March 17-19 championship round in San Francisco. Japan pitcher Tadashi Settsu, who gave up one run on two hits over three innings of relief, picked up the win. Oscar Nakaoshi took the loss after giving up two runs in the eighth.
Japanese home-run king Sadaharu Oh, who managed the Japan team that won the first WBC, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Brazil silenced the near-capacity crowd by taking the lead in the bottom of the first inning when Reginatto hit a sharp single to left that scored Orlando. Japan tied the game in the top of the third when Yoshio Itoi singled to right to score Hayato Sakamoto from second. The Japan took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Sakamoto that scored Ryoji Aikawa from third. Brazil tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Reginatto doubled and scored on a close play at the plate on a shot to center by Reinaldo Sato.
With the Kingdom of the Netherlands actually producing the first upset of the tournament, handing 2009 runner-up Korea its first lost. This tournament is going to be pretty exciting. The heat is on for traditional powerhouses, like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the United States. There are some new contenders in town. Brazil and the Netherlands are here to play and they aren’t going away quietly.