Life Is Grand For Kanekubo,
Japan advances to World Series title game for second straight year
By Andrew Schimmel
It was only fitting in a game where the two teams advanced to the
International Championship via walk-off home runs, that the outcome
would be decided in a similar fashion. And this time, it was up to
Japan’s Ryo Kanekubo to up the ante.
In Japan’s second come-from-behind walk-off win in a row, Kanekubo
drilled a 2-2 fastball to straightaway centerfield for a game-ending
grand slam, giving Japan a 7-4 victory against Curacao in the
International Championship Game.
Japan moves on to Sunday’s World Series title game against the
United States champion.
Manager Youichi Kubo’s advice to Kanekubo shone through on the
game’s final play.
“He told me I could open up the body, but not the hip,” Kanekubo
said though translator Yuichi Ishibashi. “I missed several times in
the past few days when I had good chances so I just tried to hit the
ball very hard this time.”
Kanekubo picked a good time for his first-ever grand slam, his
second homer of the game and fourth of the tournament. Japan found a
much tougher opponent in the Caribbean champions than they did
Friday in pool play, when they handily defeated the Willemstad
Curacao manager Vernon Isabella insisted that he was not afraid of
pitching to Kanekubo, despite the Japanese shortstop homering in his
previous at-bat in the fifth inning.
“We had to pitch to him,” he said through a translator. “The pitcher
was throwing inside fastballs. What can you do?”
A leadoff homer in the top of the fifth by Kanekubo breathed new
life into the defending International Champions, leveling the score
Curacao temporarily took the lead in the top of the sixth when
Ulrick Carmelia doubled in the go-ahead run. Their celebrations
would be short-lived, however, after Kanekubo stepped up to the
plate in the latter half of the inning.
The boys from the Caribbean began the scoring when Vincent Anthonia
touched home on a Jeremi Profar single to left. Curacao doubled
their advantage with an RBI-single on the part of Dennis Gustina,
bringing home Kirvin Moesquit.
Curacao pitcher Quinton Willems escaped a bases-loaded jam in the
bottom of the second by inducing a 4-3 putout to end the threat.
The Caribbean champs made it 3-0 in the third when a throwing error
to first base on a Juremi Profar grounder scored Anthonia, who led
off the inning with a triple.
However, Japan would show its resiliency once again by taking two
runs back on three hits in the bottom of the third before Kanekubo
made it all square in the fifth with his solo effort.
Both teams were coming off of walk-off wins from Thursday’s
Semi-Final round. Curacao defeated a strong Venezuelan squad with a
three-run blast from Deion Rosalia, while Japan advanced to the
final in equally dramatic fashion, courtesy of a leadoff homer by
Junsho Kiuchi in the bottom of the tenth against Asia-Pacific.
Japan and Curacao met to decide the International Championship for
the fifth time since the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2001,
with Japan now coming away victorious four times.
Kubo’s eyes twinkled as he reflected on his team’s success and the
upcoming World Series title game, Sunday afternoon.
“The dream is going to be reality now,” said Kubo.
© 2007, Little League Baseball
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