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Call to Arms: Tokyo pitching staff plays key role in win
By Darian Somers
Getting out of one jam is tough enough, but getting out of another with the game on the line is even tougher.
The Japan Region champs worked out of two jams—one in the second inning and another in the fifth—to help propel them to the Little League Baseball® World Series Championship game, Sunday at 3:30, at Howard J. Lamade Stadium as they beat Mexico, 3-2, on Saturday.
"As you can tell, with how we used our pitchers today—even pulling out Kazuki [Ishida] in the end—we told the kids early on we were going to win this no matter what, and to use all the pitchers the way that we did," Japan manager Masumi Omae said through translator Kalani Taguchi.
In the second inning, after Seiya Nishino allowed the first three batters to reach base, Kensuke Tsuchida was called to the rubber to pitch the rest of the inning with the bases loaded and no outs.
Tsuchida's defense helped him out by recording two outs at home, the first when Tsuchida fielded a ground ball and fired it to catcher Ryusei Hirooka to beat Jorge Duenas. The second was when shortstop Shou Miyao scooped up another grounder and threw out Jorge Rodriguez.
Hirooka then got Tsuchida the final out when Hirooka stepped on home after a dropped third strike. Tsuchida didn't give up a run or a hit with the bases loaded in the second and was able to keep his team from Tokyo ahead, 1-0.
"We had our best hitters out, who hit for contact," Mexico manager Francisco Fimbres said through interpreter Sergio Guzman. "That was a big missed opportunity."
The second jam for the Musashi Fuchu Little League pitching staff came in the fifth inning, this time with the score tied at two.
Tsuchida allowed the first two base runners from Tijuana to get on, and that's when manager Omae pulled Tsuchida and replaced him with Keita Saito.
Saito, who came on with runners on the corners, quickly went to work, striking out Ramon Mendoza—who had homered earlier in the game—on five pitches.
Then Saul Favela hit a hard ball to straightaway center field, but Kouyou Mizushima snagged it. The runner on third, Brandon Montes, didn't take the chance to tag up and go home. To finish off the inning, Saito struck out Brandon Meza on three straight pitches.
"It's part of the game, obviously," Fimbres said. "It happens. They are kids. They all want to hit. All of them, they want to make contact. Sometimes you don't get those hits. It's part of the game. It happens."
The Tokyo arms have allowed nine runs and just five earned throughout the tournament. They have also struck out 31 and walked a mere seven batters. On Saturday, the Tokyo pitching staff gave up just two earned runs, striking out eight and walking just two.
Those arms also played a key role in winning the game.
"Changing pitchers is something I rely on," Omae said. "We had everyone ready to go for pitching."