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Japan rallies past Europe in Tokyo opener

Shintaro Fujinami (<a href="">The Tokyo Reporter</a>)
Shintaro Fujinami (The Tokyo Reporter)
TOKYO (TR) – For seven innings, the bats of Japan’s national team were as cold as the light snow that had fallen outside Tokyo Dome on Tuesday afternoon.

That changed in the bottom of the eighth. Samurai Japan rallied for three runs en route to a 4-3 victory in the first of two games against a recently established team from Europe.

Yakult Swallows outfielder Yuhei Takai, whose misplay of a deep fly ball had earlier cost Japan two runs, singled home the go-ahead run in that decisive inning. “I had no choice but to make up for it,” said Takai afterward.

Japan, a two-time champion of the World Baseball Classic, surprisingly trailed for most of the contest. Europe starter Rob Cordemans and two relievers, including Alessandro Maestri of the Orix Buffaloes, combined to limit Samurai Japan to a single run through seven innings.

In the top of the fourth, Oscar Angulo put Europe ahead 3-0 with a two-run double that glanced off the glove of Takai at the wall in center. In the bottom of the frame, Samurai Japan pushed over one run on back-to-back doubles with two outs.

The fastballs from the electric right arm of Shintaro Fujinami, whose velocity topped out at 156 kilometers per hour in his two scoreless innings, provided the main excitement early on for the announced crowd of 21,267.

But the European team, comprised of players from six countries, including the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, couldn’t hold on for the upset over the powerhouse from Japan.

Two walks started the Samurai Japan rally in the eighth. After two hits evened the game, Takai singled up the middle to give the home team the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Samurai Japan celebrates after the last out in the 9th inning on Tuesday night
Samurai Japan celebrates after the last out in the 9th inning on Tuesday night

Katsuki Matayoshi, who pitched a scoreless eighth, was credited with the win. Yuji Nishino notched a save with a perfect ninth. Loek van Mil suffered the loss for Europe.

Hiroki Kokubo, the manager of the Japanese squad, said on the field before Tuesday’s game that the series will serve as a prelude for the WBSC Premier 12 tournament scheduled to be held in Japan and Taiwan in November.  “I think this is a big chance to show Samurai Japan’s game to the world,” the skipper said.

The final game of this series is Wednesday, which marks four years since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“There are some areas that have to be fully reconstructed,” Kokubo said in referring to the regions of Japan’s Tohoku devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. “We want to stand here for two days, telling ourselves to not let the memories fade and to never forget. Please support us until the very end.”