Game 5
Transatlantic 0 vs. Asia 3

Saturday, August 20, 2005
1:00PM ET
Lamade Stadium

 
Saiko Sakamoto
As Japan’s No. 3 starter wins his team’s pool play opener, Chiba City may have discovered its diamond in the rough.


By Allie Weinberger

Manager Hirofumi Oda doesn’t consider any one of his players to be Chiba City Little League’s ace.

Yeah, right.

In a 3-1 victory over the Arabian American Little League from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia Saturday at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, 12-year-old righthander Takuya Sakamoto’s complete game shutout was just saiko.

In other words, “Lights out,” as teammates Tatsuhito Otsuji and Yusuke Taira said through interpreter Bill Lundy. “Incredible, the way [Sakamoto] pitched today.”

“‘Saiko’ was their word,” added Lundy.

In front of 12,250 spectators, Sakamoto’s commanding performance will live as one of the best in 2005. In addition to his two-hit shutout, the pitcher – who got the nod despite being the team’s No. 3 starter – went 2-for-3 with a run scored.

Sakamoto was not the only pitcher who tossed a complete game at Lamade Stadium today, though. Opposing starter Alex Robinett pitched six complete innings for Saudi Arabia, fanning six and allowing three earned runs on six hits.

“Alex is our No. 1 pitcher,” said Saudi manager Tommy Bumstead. “We’ve been pumping him all year to go out and try to beat Asia.”

Robinett, who showed his roots as an American citizen when he featured Nomar Garciaparra’s trademark bat rock at the plate, opened the international matchup with two quick strikeouts before forcing catcher Kisho Watanabe to ground out to second.

It was six up and six down through the first, as Sakamoto started his nearly flawless outing by getting the first three Saudi batters to ground out, fly out and strike out, respectively.

“From a hitting standpoint we were a little bit tight the first time through [the order],” said Bumstead.

In the second, right fielder Yuki Mizuma got Japan rolling with a dribbler back to the mound. The right fielder showcased the speed of the Japanese team by beating out Robinett’s throw to first.

Two batters later, first baseman Tomokazu Kaise hit a single that looped over the head of Saudi Arabia’s five-foot second baseman before falling into shallow center field.

With two on and only one out, Robinett found his second out of the inning in Yuto Kata’s fielder’s choice grounder that forced an out at second. With runners on the corners, Robinett got himself out of trouble by striking Shuhei Iwata out looking and leaving two stranded.

Sakamoto continued his dominance in the bottom of the second, retiring three straight and extending his no-hit bid to two innings.

In the top of the third, the pitcher took a turn dominating the other end of a pitch. Sakamoto registered the first hit of his pair with a hard-hopping double down the third base line that bounced over third baseman Nate Barnett’s glove and rocketed into the left field corner.

A hit by shortstop Taira sent Sakamoto home for Japan’s first run of the game. Taira would reach third on left fielder George Luo’s error.

From there, the flood gates opened.

A bunt from pinch hitter Ryo Misawa placed runners at the corners with no outs. Misawa advanced to second after a wild pitch got past catcher Connor Clark. Watanabe’s sacrifice grounder to short scored Taira, making it 2-0 in favor of the Asia All-Stars.

After getting right fielder Mizuma to hit a groundball to short for the inning’s second out, Robinett found himself facing five-foot-two pinch hitter Otsuji.

Otsuji gave Japan a three-run lead, hitting a looper into right field to score Misawa from third. Robinett’s second wild pitch of the inning – a fastball in the dirt – allowed Otsuji to take second base. Saudi Arabia got out of the inning when Robinett got the next batter, pinch hitter Kosuke Suzuki, to fly out to center.

But the damage was done. Japan was ahead 3-0, and that was all Sakamoto would need.

“Without that inning … and without that error, [the game] possibly would have been much closer,” said Japan’s skipper through Lundy.

“You never want to give a team additional outs in an inning,” said Bumstead. “But nobody’s perfect, especially 11- and 12-year-olds.”

But Sakamoto was remarkably close.

The Saudi mites got their first baserunner in the bottom of the third, when first baseman Alec Dahlseide drew Sakamoto’s only walk of the game. Dahlseide took second after a passed ball got by Watanabe.

But that didn’t faze Japan’s hurler. He simply went and got left fielder Luo and shortstop Matt Timoney to fly out to deep left and right field, respectively.

Robinett came out again in the top of the fourth and after two quick outs found himself in trouble again when a Sakamoto single bounced through the gap between first and second into right field, despite a great effort from second baseman Kyle Al-Sughaiyer to block it.

The next pitch hit Taira, putting a runner on first and another in scoring position. But Robinett showed his own sparkle and struck out center fielder Kazuki Matsuo to get out of the inning unscathed.

In the bottom of the fourth, a great throw by Taira just beat the speedy Ryan Bumstead to first base. The following strikeout of Robinett preserved Sakamoto’s no-hit bid through 4 2/3.

But the stud hurler finally showed that he wasn’t, in fact, invincible.

Al-Sughaiyer’s line drive down the base line knocked Chiba City’s third baseman Iwata over and jetted into left field for the first Saudi Arabia hit of the game. The next batter, right fielder DeRon Horton, registered hit No. 2 with another single into left field.

Sakamoto put a damper on Saudi’s run and struck out Clark to retire the side with two left on base.

“Asia as a team is always well-coached and well-disciplined,” said Bumstead. “We most likely played the toughest team in our bracket.”

But Robinett did not let up. After getting the first out of the fifth at first, Robinett faced Mizuma – who hit a long foul ball before being hit by a Robinett pitch. Then the Saudi Arabian defense kicked in, getting Robinett out of trouble and out of the inning by turning a 1-6-3 double play on Fumiki Sakuyama’s dribbler back to the mound.

Sakamoto continued to command the game with a three-up, three-down fifth inning.

After Barnett’s long foul ball into the left field grandstands, Sakamoto got both the leadoff man and pitch hitter Paul Kelsch to strike out.

But no matter how dominant and composed a pitcher is, facing someone like Aaron Durley has to be just a little unsettling. And though no pitcher looks down on any batter here at the Series, there’s no looking down at this six-foot-five, 226-pound 12-year-old, well, ever.

But Sakamoto hardly noticed.

“Obviously, I have never encountered such a large hitter before,” said Sakamoto through Lundy. “I was just thinking, ‘What could I throw to him so he could only get a single?’”

The pitching stud (who at five-foot-four stands 13 inches below his opponent) struck Durley out swinging.

When asked what he thought about stricking out Saudi’s big man, Sakamoto said it was “nothing special.”

Robinett graced the mound once more in the sixth. After a fielding error at third base put Kaise on first, Robinett got his first out at second into a 6-4 fielder’s choice.

The pitcher, whose pitch count was in the mid-70s, threw his third wild pitch to put Kaise in scoring position with one out and Sakamoto at the plate. After a slight bobble by the second baseman, the throw just beat Sakamoto’s grounder to finish out the inning.

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, it was now or never for the underdogs from the Transatlantic.

Timoney’s swing to lead off the bottom of the sixth sent left fielder Sakuyama back to the warning track before he pocketed the shortstop’s deep pop up. After Bumstead struck out for the second out, it all came down to one of the greatest battles in the game. A pitcher’s duel.

With Robinett at the plate, two down and a three-run comfort zone, it was the perfect ending to a stellar performance by the 12-year-old hurler from Japan. Though Robinett battled hard, Sakamoto struck the pitcher out to complete his two-hit shutout and lead Japan to a 1-0 start in pool play.

“I thought I did great,” said Sakamoto. “I was happy with my control and my curveball was on.”

His skipper agreed. “He had a lot of control,” Oda said. “He was pitching an excellent curveball and I was very happy with it today.”

But Saudi Arabia doesn’t consider themselves down and out with two games remaining in pool play.

“I think today proves that we can play with any team in the world,” Bumstead said.

But no matter how you cut it, Saiko Sakamoto couldn’t have been hotter. The Chiba City Little Leaguers may not sport one team ace, but they certainly have a diamond in their deck.

Game Photos


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