Saturday, March 18, 2006

BANZAI!!!

Japan has done it. After a frustrating and controversy marred tournament in the early rounds, Team Nippon finally found a way to put it all together and defeat Korea to move to the Championship Game against Global Juggernaut, Cuba.

What happened?

1. Uehara happened. I will continue to use this forum to plead for forgiveness in ever doubting Koji Uehara. He has shown great mettle and frontline starter stuff in leading the Japanese staff deep into the WBC. Today he was baffling with a nasty forkball and adrenaline aided straight fastballs. He was sharp and while he looked very nervous as the game started, surviving Lee Jong Beom's 1st inning double calmed him down and built his confidence. The game was a pitching duel through 6, and Uehara's 7 innings of 3 hit baseball were punctuated by 8 strikeouts and no runs. My preview predictions for relief pitching were correct, as Yabuta and Otsuka dominated the 8th and 9th innings. "The Lion King", Lee Seung Yeop, was 0-3 with 2 strikeouts against Uehara, and posted another strikeout against Otsuka in the 9th. Game. Set. Match.

2. Ichiro happened. I knew he was due for an Ichiro-like dominating performance and he delivered. Oh put the legendary batsman in the 3 hole today and it payed off. Ichiro was on base all day and finished up 3-5 with an RBI and 2 stolen bases. His energy was apparent and he showed great fire in emotionally setting the pace for his teammates.

3. Byung Hyun Kim happened. I love this guy. Can any of us ever forget the home runs he gave up in Yankee Stadium in the 2001 World Series? He has a wonderful skill for giving up crushing home runs late in ballgames. His leadoff double to Matsunaka prompted an unforgettable moment for the Japanese. Matsunaka rumbled into second ahead of the tag and celebrated his success by pummelling the bag with a hard left. You knew it was on. After Tamura failed to bunt Matsunaka to 3rd with no one out, Oh made the decision to pinch hit Dragons' cleanup man Kosuke Fukudome to drive in the run from second. He did more than that as he blasted a no doubt shot into the right centerfield stands. 2-0 Japan. A hit batsman (Ogasawara), a wild pitch, and a ground rule double (Satozaki) later and Japan was up 3-0 and threatened for more. Kim had opened the floodgates and the rest is now history.

My thoughts in the preview were somewhat prophetic as I noted that Korea's 2-0 record against Japan was a product of pitching and stellar defense, but that the bats going into the game were cold against them (8-61, or .131). The Koreans flashed unbelieveable leather all night and kept the game close, but the bats never heated up and Japan coasted for the victory. For the record tonight they hit 4-31, or .129, matching their previous two games average.

So, there you have it. My coworkers will no doubt come in on a high tomorrow, and we'll be treated to a great Final with Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka (future Yankee) going up against the Kings of World Baseball, Cuba.

<---This guy beat Cuba in the 2004 Olympics (Day 3).

Check back soon for my Championship Game preview. Buckle up. Banzai!!!!!!