Armed-and-Dangerous Samurai Shut Down United States in the WBC Final

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Clockwise from top left: Japan relievers Shosei Togo, Hiroto Takahashi, Taisei Ota and Hiromi Ito are seen during the final of the World Baseball Classic against the United States on Tuesday in Miami.

Like a mighty sword, Samurai Japan wielded their best weapons to close out a seven-game perfect run to a third World Baseball Classic title, concluding with a 3-2 victory that wrestled the title from the United States in the final on Tuesday in Miami.

Samurai skipper Hideki Kuriyama was fearless against the U.S. in parading out a quartet of young arms, many of whom have yet to face bona fide major league batters and are certainly devoid of experience on such a massive stage.

Kuriyama pulled off a plan that many might have lacked the intestinal fortitude to even consider. And he did it with unflinching belief.

“It was evident today, but when you ask what is special about Japan, I think it’s our pitchers. And if we were going to win, I believed it was going to be because of our pitchers,” Kuriyama said in a post-tournament press conference televised live. “And in fact, not only Yu Darvish and Shohei [Ohtani], but all the young pitchers did a wonderful job, and I’m thrilled about it.

“In terms of the performance, what I thought best about today was our young pitchers. With all the fantastic players in the U.S. lineup, they didn’t flinch and went right at them,” Kuriyama said about relying on the four unproven hurlers in the clincher.

“And looking at the American team, the hitters were different from our approach and didn’t try to be ready from the first game, they were getting better as they went along. They weren’t in peak form, but still, for those guys to pitch like that against them shows that Japanese baseball has some talent and it’s a great experience for those pitchers,” said Kuriyama, who added that the win is certain to boost participation in baseball among children in Japan.

Kuriyama took the ball from lefty starter Shota Imanaga after his two-inning start, and made what appeared to be a seamless transition to Yomiuri Giants righty Shosei Togo. The move started out great as Togo, who turns 23 on April 4, retired the first two he faced. However, the fifth-year hurler walked consecutive batters and had to face the Philadelphia Phillies’ Trea Turner, perhaps the hottest hitter in the tournament, with runners on base.

Togo fanned the infielder and followed that up with a 1-2-3 fourth inning.

But eyebrows shot up toward hairlines everywhere when 20-year-old Hiroto Takahashi of the Chunichi Dragons took the mound to start the fifth inning. Takahashi, who was a first-year starter with the Dragons last season, surrendered an infield single to start the frame, then struck out three-time American League MVP Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, and reigning National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals before allowing another single. He closed out the inning by getting last year’s NL home run king Kyle Schwarber of the Phillies to fly out harmlessly to center.

Next up was Hiromi Itoh of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, a 25-year-old righty about to enter his third season in Nippon Professional Baseball. Ito put up a clean inning, and handed the baton to Giants closer Taisei Ota, a 23-year-old who has just one year as a pro under his belt.

Ota walked one and allowed a hit, but Kuriyama didn’t give him the hook. The former Fighters skipper stood strong behind his young pitchers and Ota rewarded him by getting out of the inning with a zero on the scoreboard.

Kuriyama then had veteran arms in Darvish of the San Diego Padres and a player seemingly sent from heaven in two-way superstar Ohtani of the Angels to work the final two innings.

Darvish allowed a solo homer, and Ohtani walked one, but Japan really looked the part of the Samurai, cutting down a power-laden American lineup in a tight game.

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