Patient Japan Headed to International Finals
Japan beats Mexico for second time in tournament; awaits winner of Chinese Taipei vs. Panama
Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 6:00pm ET
Ricardo Puga hit a solo home run in the bottom of the first inning, giving Mexico an early lead in its win-or-go-home rematch with Japan on Tuesday night.
Enrique Penaloza hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the second inning, clearing the hill and doubling Mexico's lead.
Still, Japan waited.
Like a cat stalking its prey, Japan waited until Mexico made a mistake. One Mexican error in the third inning was all it took for Japan to tie the game at 2-2, and a solo home run from Kaname Shinozaki in the fourth put it ahead 3-2. That score would hold and Japan's tournament-long strategy sent it into the International final as the Pool C champions.
Despite the nail-biting nature of Tuesday's game, manager Shingo Ariyasu said Japan's first win against Mexico on Friday was more difficult.
"It was a lot more grueling," he said through translator Brian Thompson.
Japan has played close to mistake-free baseball in Williamsport, committing just one error in three games. The disciplined approach was simply too much for its opponents, who couldn't solve Japan's tough pitching staff either.
Mexico twice led Japan at the World Series, but couldn't close out victories. Mexico led the teams' first matchup 1-0 going into the sixth inning, only to lose 4-2. After seeing another lead evaporate against the Japanese, manager Armando Rodriguez could only tip his hat.
"They're all about aggressiveness," he said through translator Sergio Guzman. "We made a couple of mistakes and it's tough."
Despite the miscues, Mexico trailed by just one run headed into the sixth inning. Japan had Ichiro Ogasawara, its closer, on the mound to face the heart of the Mexican lineup. After Ogasawara walked Puga, Eduardo Mata sent a fly ball deep down the right field line.
Though the ball ultimately was caught in foul territory, there were still a few heart-stopping moments in Japan's dugout.
"I had confidence in [Ogasawara] today," Ariyasu said. "But I was a little scared when the fly ball was hit."
After recording the first out, Ogasawara quickly struck out the final two batters of the game for his second save of the tournament.
"I was carrying the name Japan with me," he said. "So I felt a lot of pressure."
Starting pitcher Konan Tomori started the game shaky, allowing the two home runs. But he settled in thanks to his unique delivery. Tomori hid the ball behind his back through much of his windup and paused near the start.
Rodriguez said no one in Mexico had a similar delivery, making it difficult for his team to pick up the ball. The only times Mexico put a good swing on the ball was when they hit the home runs.
"We're not accustomed to it," Rodriguez said. "We couldn't see the ball."
Tomori (1-0) went four innings, allowing just two hits and striking out seven. Still, he wasn't too happy with his performance, rating it "only a 50 out of 100."
Tomori clearly kept Japan in the game long enough for it to begin its comeback in the third inning. Tomori reached first on shortstop Aldo Azael Buendia's error. An RBI double from Ogasawara, two wild pitches and a passed ball later, the game was tied.
Shinozaki delivered the winning run on a leadoff home run in the fourth inning. He said he was very happy to hit a home run in the Little League World Series.
"At first I was told by coach [Kenshu] Isshi, to hit the ball on the inside," Shinozaki said. "The opposing pitcher was tall, so he would throw from higher point than usual."
It didn't matter how tall Hugo Paulo Mendiola, Jr. was. Shinozaki got all of the pitch, sending it deep to left field and Japan to the International finals. It will have three days to rest before playing either Chinese Taipei or Panama.
Ariyasu said the break will be welcome. "I feel very fortunate," he said. "I'm happy about the rest."