Ichiro Suzuki‘s two-out, two-run single off Chang Yong Lim in the top of the 10th inning proved to be the difference as Japan defeated Korea 5-3 to repeat as World Baseball Classic champions. Ichiro’s clutch hit - his fourth of the game - capped an eight-pitch at bat and made a winner out of 22-year-old Yu Darvish, who allowed Korea to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth but used his mid-90s fastball and devastating slider to secure the victory in the bottom of the 10th. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who went 3-0 in the tournament, repeated as MVP of the Classic.
Korea, which never led in the game, entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 3-2 but tied the score in dramatic fashion against Darvish, who went 16-4 with a 1.88 ERA in the Japanese league last season. The right-hander fanned the first Korean hitter but then walked the next two to put runners at first and second with one out. Darvish struck out Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo - who got Korea on the board with a solo shot in the fifth - for the second out, but Bum Ho Lee followed with a single to left that tied the game at three runs apiece. Darvish bounced back to whiff the next hitter and send the game to extra innings.
Japanese starter Hisahaki Iwakuma, who won Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award last season, allowed just four hits in 7 2/3 masterful innings and stood to get the victory until Lee singled in the tying run against Darvish in the ninth. On the Korean side, former Braves and Reds pitcher Jungkeun Bong and reliever Hyun Wook Jong pitched in and out of trouble throughout the first eight innings to give their squad a chance to win.
Sunday night’s final - played before a WBC-record crowd of 54,846 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles - was a chess match of a ball game and a classic in the truest sense of the word. It was clear that Japan and Korea were playing for national pride as both teams functioned as cohesive units and showcased the kinds of sound fundamentals that are often talked about but rarely seen. The WBC has its detractors but has clearly has the potential to be a major international event, particularly if the United States joins the rest of the participants in putting forth its best effort.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by the Associated Press