x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Japan defeat Asian rivals in baseball final

Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th to hand Japan the World Baseball Classic title with a 5-3 win against South Korea.

Ichiro Suzuki, centre, celebrates with teammates Seiichi Uchikawa, right, and Norichika Aoki after Japan's 5-3 victory over South Korea. Ichiro drove the winning runs to hand japan their second straight title.
Ichiro Suzuki, centre, celebrates with teammates Seiichi Uchikawa, right, and Norichika Aoki after Japan's 5-3 victory over South Korea. Ichiro drove the winning runs to hand japan their second straight title.

LOS ANGELES // The Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th as the defending champions Japan beat the reigning Olympic champions South Korea 5-3 to win their second straight World Baseball Classic title. Japan won the inaugural tournament three years ago, beating Cuba 10-6 in the final at San Diego. Before a boisterous crowd of 54,846 at Dodger Stadium, South Korea tied the game at 3-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Lee Bum-ho's run-scoring single off Japanese closer Yu Darvish (2-1), who got in trouble by issuing one-out walks to Kim Hyun-soo and Kim Tae-kyun, the 3-4 hitters in the line-up.

Darvish struck out Choo Shin-soo before Lee lined a 1-1 pitch into left field, with the pinch runner Lee Jong-wook scoring easily from second. Seiichi Uchikawa opened the 10th with a single, was sacrificed to second and took third on a single by Akinori Iwamura. After the pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki popped out, Iwamura took second on defensive interference. Suzuki managed to foul off a pitch after it had bounced then lined the eighth pitch of the at-bat from Lim Chang-yong (1-1) to centre for his fourth hit. He entered with a .211 average and three RBIs in eight previous games.

Given the lead, Darvish worked around a leadoff walk to retire South Korea in the bottom of the 10th, setting off a wild celebration when he struck out Lee Jin-young to end the four-hour game. The game was the latest in an intense rivalry between the Asian powerhouses - a Far East version of a Yankees-Red Sox matchup. They split four previous games in this 16-team tournament, with Japan's 6-2 triumph in San Diego last Thursday giving it the Pool 1 title in the second round. Two days earlier, South Korea won 4-1, and their players planted the nation's flag on the mound afterward and not the first time. Suzuki made sure it would not happen on this night.

Japan, who outhit South Korea 15-5 and blew several scoring opportunities and stranded 14 runners, took a 3-1 lead with single runs in the seventh and eighth. Yasuyuki Kataoka singled off Jong Hyun-wook to open the seventh, stole second, took third on Suzuki's bunt single and scored on Hiroyuki Nakajima's single. Japan had a chance to blow the game open, but after Suzuki took third on Norichika Aoki's fly to deep right, Kenji Johjima grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Iwamura's sacrifice fly off Hyunjin Ryu in the eighth gave the Japanese a two-run lead. The run was charged to Jong, who left after giving up a one-out single to Uchikawa. Atsunori Inaba followed with a ground-rule double before Iwamura's fly to left. South Korea got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Lee doubled, took third on an infield out and scored on pinch-hitter Lee Dae-ho's sacrifice fly.

Toshiya Sugiuchi relieved after starter Hisashi Iwakuma issued a two-out walk to Park Ki-hyuk, and retired Lee Yong-kyu on a liner to left. Iwakuma, a 27-year-old right-hander who won 21 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last year, worked 7 2-3 innings, and allowed just four hits and two runs. He walked two, struck out six and threw 97 pitches - three shy of the maximum. Japan took a 1-0 lead with an unearned run off Bong Jung-keun in the third on Michihiro Ogasawara's RBI single, but it could have been a lot worse because Japan loaded the bases with one out before Kenta Kurihara grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Choo tied the game by hitting a 1-1 pitch from Iwakuma over the centre field fence to open the fifth for his second homer in as many games. Iwakuma allowed only one base runner in the first four innings. Bong allowed six hits and one run in four-plus innings with three walks and one strikeout while using 94 pitches. Jong relieved with runners at first and third and nobody out in the top of the fifth and worked out of trouble, striking out two before catcher Park Kyung-oan threw out Aoki trying to steal second.

*AP