Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Sunday, August 21, 2011, 8:00pm ET
When two perennial powerhouses clash in a primetime matchup, sparks are a near guarantee, and Sunday's nightcap between Mexico and Japan did not disappoint. One of the two biggest international champs would be heading for the elimination bracket by the end of the night, and seven innings later, that team would end up being Japan as the Seguro Social Little League walked off with two out thanks to a Bruno Ruiz game winner for a 3-2 victory.
In the bottom of the seventh, Mexico's Jorge Jacobo represented the game-winning run, getting on base with a one-out single to right.
A deep fly ball off the bat of cleanup hitter and starting pitcher Alonso Garcia fell just feet shy of ending it with a near-shot over the right field wall. But when the hit fell in against the wall in play, Garcia took a chance on trying to stretch it into a double, a risk that didn't pay off as Garcia made the second out at second base, leaving the game in the hands of Ruiz with the winning run just 60 feet away.
After Ruiz nearly struck out – he was bailed out by a slight tip he managed to get on the ball, much to the chagrin of the Japanese faithful – he stepped back in to take the very next pitch through the gap, scoring Jacobo for the 3-2 win and sending the little leaguers from Hamamatsu City to an elimination matchup with Saudi Arabia.
"The count was 2-2, and I thought he was going to throw me a curveball," said Ruiz through interpreter Sergio Guzman. "I saw the fastball and reacted to it, but I thought the shortstop was going to catch it. But when I saw it go through, I raised my hands up and was very happy."
But just an inning earlier, with the score deadlocked at 2-2, Tackuya Okamoto gave Japan its best chance to take the lead, starting off the top of the sixth with a scorching double into centerfield that rolled all the way to the wall. With a man in scoring position and no one out, this was the Hamamatsu Minami All-Stars' chance to put all the pressure on Mexico.
A beautiful bunt from Seiya Fujita hugged the third base line, looking as though it would do its job and advance Okamoto to the hot corner. But the Mexico defense played the bunt smartly, catching Okamoto en route to third rather than throwing right to first for the easy out.
A rundown that involved the catcher, third baseman and second baseman resulted
in the first out, eliminating Okamoto and the immediate scoring threat, but
Mexico wasn't done. A heads up play and strong throw to first got the Mexicali
All-Stars out of a jam and left no Japanese runners on base. Garcia finished the
inning off with a strikeout of Sotaro Yoshida to keep the score knotted.
"It was a really nice play for them, but it was not our team's [fault]," said manager Akihiro Suzuki through interpreter Kotaro Omori. "It was a really good play for them."
All four runs before the walkoff came in the first two innings, while Mexico outslugged its opponent, 10 hits to four. Carlos Arellano got the win for Seguro Social, fanning three in 1.1 innings of work. Garcia struck out six and walked just one in 5.2 frames.
"It was very important [for Garcia to have a good performance]," said manager Francisco Picos McDonough. "We were expecting a good outing, and he gave his best and gave a lot of confidence to our team."
Mexico will now take on Venezuela, the Latin American champions, Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Japan will fight for the right to stay in the 2011 Little League Baseball World Series with a matchup against the MEA All-Stars Monday at 6 p.m.