Japan’s Pitching Machine Continues to Roll
For any other team, Yoosuke Katoh fits the “ace” label to the T, or should we say, the K. He cripples hitters with ferocious fastballs, skirts big innings and directs his fielders like a Marine Corps commander.
But throwing for Japan in Tuesday’s impressive 5-0 victory at Lamade Stadium, Katoh looked more or less like his pitching partners, Yoshinori
Satoh and Yuuji Nakane. But being ordinary on this pitching staff is more of an honor than an insult – a message conveyed to Katoh before he took the mound.
“After yesterday’s game (a 11-0 win over Mexico in which Nakane threw a no-hitter), my coach pulled me aside and said ‘don’t worry about anything else except your own pitching,” Katoh said through an interpreter.
With a complete game shutout against the Caribbean champs in front of 4,600, Katoh continued Sendai’s near-flawless Series. No team scored on Japan in pool play, and the Asia champs cruise into the International semifinals on the shoulders of its towering trio of pitchers.
While other skippers will pore over whom to start in the semis, Japan manager Kazutomo Takahashi has the luxury of knowing any of his hurlers can get the job done. But that won’t stop him to sticking to the schedule.
“We don’t really concentrate on what the other team is doing,” Takahashi said through an interpreter. “We throw whichever pitcher is coming up in the rotation.”
Takahashi said he will not stray from his agenda in the semifinals, so Katoh could not pitch
again until the World Championship on Sunday.
The Sendai Higashi Little Leaguers wasted no time in giving their powerful pitcher a sizable cushion, scoring three runs in the first inning.
Leadoff man Yuuji Nakane reached on an error then scooted to third base on a passed ball. Tsukasa Satoh reached on a fielder’s choice and came home behind Nakane on a solid single by Kathoh. Another Curraco error plated Katoh, and Japan was well in command.
“It particularly give the pitcher confidence to finish the game when we score early on,” Takahashi said through an interpreter.
With Tuesday’s win, Asia upped its total to 23 in the World Series, making it the highest scoring team in the Series (Latin America had 20 runs going into Tuesday night’s game against Transatlantic).
The offense surge was a nice surprise for Takahashi and his players.
“Hitting is not necessarily our strongest point,” Takahashi said, “but I’m very pleased with our ability to make good contact throughout the Series.
Curacao right-hander Richently Kenepa kept Asia quiet after the first inning, allowing only two more runs in the third inning. Kenepa finished the game with four strikeouts.
Despite the loss, the Caribbean champs from Willemstad, Curacao, knew before the game that they had reached the International semis for the second straight year. Curacao (2-1) played Japan in last year’s International Championship, and manager Mark Van Zanten has high hopes his team will be back.
“We’ll be back in the International Final and it will be tough to beat us,” he said.
Japanese pitchers held their opponents hitless for 14 innings until Curacao first baseman Timothy Juliana beat out a grounder to first. But even the slightest blemish was quickly wiped away for Japan, who gunned down Juliana as he tried to take second base on an overthrow. The Caribbean champs finished the game with three hits.
Curacao’s best threat came in the fourth, when it put runners on first and third with two outs. But Katoh got his pitching counterpart to ground out, ending the inning.
By Adam Rittenberg