Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Monday, August 22, 2011, 6:00pm ET
Ryota Matsushita had never pitched in a game before Monday afternoon.
Moments after losing a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning after Saudi Arabia rattled off three hits and a walk—all with two outs—to put four runs on the board, Japan manager Akihiro Suzuki called on Matsushita, who usually plays second base, to take the mound.
“We wanted to change the flow of the game,” Suzuki said through interpreter Kotaro Omori. “[Ryota] is one of our younger kids, and we gave him a chance.”
Matsushita allowed only three base runners over four innings of relief in Japan’s 13-4 win over the MEA champs and masterfully pitched down in the strike zone to induce ground balls. Only two of the 14 batters he faced hit the ball in the air.
“I was aiming low, and [it went there],” Matsushita said.
In the fourth inning, Japan retook the lead, 5-4, thanks to some heads-up base running from first baseman Shoto Totsuka.
Totsuka navigated his way from first to home on a Kazuto Takakura bunt, beating the throw to third after rounding second and advancing home while Takakura was caught in a rundown between first and second.
In the top of the sixth inning, as Matsushita continued to force ground ball after ground ball, the game was put out of reach as Japan’s offense exploded for eight runs on eight hits with Sotaro Yoshida’s solo home run to right field as the exclamation point. Yoshida had two hits in the inning and finished the day 3-for-3 with three RBI.
Manager Suzuki felt the drain from Japan’s final-at-bat loss to Mexico the night before may have contributed to his team’s early offensive struggles.
“Today, we couldn’t concentrate on the game at first, so it was a really tough game,” Suzuki said. “We needed to refresh because we lost last night.”
Japan will play Canada at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.