Sun Far From Setting On
Japan’s Title Hopes
Japan advances to International Championship after holding off
By Andrew Schimmel
Redemption is seldom found in a form with so much satisfaction.
After giving up the go-ahead run to Chinese-Taipei in the top of the
sixth, Japan’s Junsho Kiuchi more than made amends to his teammates
by driving a walk-off home run four innings later in the tenth into
the foggy Pennsylvania night.
The blast, which came after Kazutaka Kato had tied it in the bottom
of the sixth with an RBI single, gave Japan a 4-3 win and a spot in
Saturday’s International Championship against Curacao.
Teams from Japan and Curacao will meet in the International finale
for the fifth time in seven years since the tournament expanded to
16 teams in 2001.
In a marathon contest that finished just 13 minutes shy of being the
longest game in World Series history, Japan and Asia-Pacific traded
shots for ten innings, until Kiuchi stepped up to the plate.
In the second-most number of innings ever played in a World Series
game, four pitchers reached their pitch-count limit and both teams
left everything on the field.
The war of attrition got off to a relatively quick start when
Asia-Pacific third baseman Jen-Chieh Liu drove a ball to deep right
field for a two-run triple in the first inning.
Things appeared to be going well for Asia-Pacific until the bottom
of the fourth, when backpedaling Chinese Taipei second baseman
Chang-Cheng Wei couldn’t get a handle on a difficult bloop hit near
the right field line off the bat of Japan’s Ryo Kanekubo. The
problem was only compounded after third baseman Jen-Chieh Liu was
unable to corral the throw from right field, trying to prevent
Kanekubo from reaching third. As the ball kicked away toward the
Asia-Pacific dugout, Kanekubo made a break for home, scoring Japan’s
first run of the game.
In the meantime, Japan starter Ryo Kanekubo settled down after a
skittish first to retire the next eleven batters in a row. He then
walked Kai-Ying Chen in the fifth to reach the pitch-count limit of
Japan kept fighting going into the bottom of the sixth. Down to his
last strike with two outs, 5-foot, 84-pound Kato mustered every
ounce of his body to dump a single into shallow centerfield to bring
in the tying run represented by Yuya Fukushima.
“I was just trying to hit the ball as hard as possible,” Kato said
through translator Yuichi Ishibashi.
Extra innings saw relievers for both teams, Junsho Kiuchi for Japan
and Kai-Ying Chen, put on dominant displays. Despite giving up the
go-ahead run in the top of the sixth, Kiuchi’s game-ending solo shot
may have overshadowed what was an otherwise brilliant 5 1/3 innings
of relief that included nine strikeouts.
Kiuchi’s tenth-inning homer marked the second walk-off home run of
the day, following the lead of Curacao’s Deion Rosalia, who
propelled his squad into the other half of the Little League
Baseball World Series International Championship.
Kiuchi said he had seen the day’s walk-off on television. When asked
whose home run he thought was better, he grinned before answering
with the help of interpreter Yuichi Ishibashi.
“Mine,” he said.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Japan manager Youichi Kubo exhibited a
great deal of respect for their upcoming opponents through
translator Yuichi Ishibashi.
“They are magicians with the baseball,” he said.
© 2007, Little League Baseball
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