Atsushi Mochizuki picked a good time to hit his second home run at the Little League World Series. Although this time it would not be
a grand slam like the first one.
It was even better. It was of the walk-off variety.
Mochizuki’s two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth beat Curacao, 2-1, in the International Championship, and at the same time
advanced Japan into Sunday’s World Series Championship.
“I wasn’t particularly trying to hit a home run,” he said. “I was just trying to hit it straight. I was expecting a fastball and that’s what I got.”
Yousuki Nomura led off the inning with a base hit that traveled just ten feet in front of home plate. Mochizuki then stepped in the box and crushed the 0-2 pitch over the right-center field fence.
It took nearly everyone by surprise, especially Curacao manager Mark Van Zanten.
“I was relaxed going into the sixth inning,” he said. “He golfed a good pitch. That’s baseball.”
Nomura, who started the sixth-inning rally, was just going about his business.
“I do what I’m told by the manager,” he said. “And I came through.”
Japan’s offense was quiet until the final inning. They did manage a scoring opportunity in the first and fifth innings, but could not manage to push a run across.
In the bottom half of the first, Masayuki Itoh walked to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Mochizuki singled to the left side. With two runners on base, Nobuhisa Baba stepped to the plate and hit a towering fly ball to left field. Left-fielder Michelangelo Trinidad lost sight of the ball, but center fielder Rudson Pieter came out of nowhere to make a full-extension diving catch. Tatsuya Suzuki then grounded out to pitcher Erick Rafael to end the inning.
Then in the fifth, Natsuki Sugisawa led off with a double to the center field wall. Tsubasa Sumiyoshi struck out, but Yohei Kawasaki singled and advanced Sugisawa to third. Curacao pitcher Erick Rafael would settle down as he struck out Takaaki Ohno and induced Masayuki Itoh to ground out to third.
“I did not give up at all,” said Japan coach Kiichiro Kubo. “I knew we were coming up with our two, three and four hitters the next inning so I thought we could win.”
The pitching of Japan kept them in the game and gave them a chance to win it at the end. Baba came into pitch in the fourth inning and shut down the Curacao offense from there on out. He closed out the game by allowing just two baserunners.
“We always rely on Baba for fast straight balls when we’re in a pinch,” Kubo said. “He has a very strong will and when we’re in a pinch, we count on his will to come through for us.”
And “will” is what the Japan team will need as they square off against Apopka, Florida and their terrorizing offense in Sunday’s World Series Championship.
In a post-game news conference, Japan won the coin toss and elected to be the home team.
- Mark Rogoff