Results tagged ‘ Yu Darvish ’

Japan shines at Classic

Horn_90.jpgBy Brad Horn

Japan has proven once again that when it comes to international tournament play, no country performs better.

With Monday’s 5-3 victory in 10 innings over a tough Korea team, Japan defended its 2006 World Baseball Classic crown in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, parlaying timely hitting and dominant pitching into victory as more than 54,000 fans roared, chanted and were entertained as a super rivalry reached a white-hot intensity.

3-24-09-Horn_Iwakuma.jpgAfter the game, Team Japan stars Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma and Yu Darvish each donated artifacts to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which will be added to the Today’s Game exhibit in the near future.

Suzuki, who has been one of the most generous players in history with the Hall of Fame in terms of number of artifacts, donated the bat he used in Round 1 of the Classic. In 2006, he donated his helmet from the WBC.

Iwakuma, Japan’s reigning Cy Young-equivalent winner, donated the cap he wore on Monday. And young sensation Darvish, who threw the first and last pitch of the ’09 Classic, will be sending a pair of spikes to Cooperstown.

After the medal ceremony in the Japanese dugout, Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson congratulated Ichiro, a player he’s been friendly with since Ichiro arrived in Seattle in 2001.

An ecstatic Ichiro said to him, “What an honor it was to play in this game and in this tournament.”

Any number of Japanese players could have been chosen to represent the team in the second Classic. Akinori Iwamura, already a Major League star with the Tampa Bay Rays, pulled off a double “World” feat, with an October appearance in the Fall Classic and a March stint in the Classic. This time, Aki and his teammates are truly world champs.

“That was a tough game,” Aki told me last night as we walked toward Japan’s clubhouse. As one of the few English-speaking Japanese stars, Aki was gracious in helping the Museum acquire artifacts from Darvish and Iwakuma.

In any language, recognizing the incredible team unity and spirit displayed by Japan only furthers the globalization of the game. It will be another four years before the next Classic in 2013, but there’s no doubt they’ll still be talking of this night for many generations to come.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Pacific Rim comes up strong in Classic

Idelson_90.jpgBy Jeff Idelson

The second of two semifinal World Baseball Classic games came to an end last night here at historic Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. The Japanese national side proved too tough for its U.S. counterpart, beating the American team in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.

So Japan, which sealed victory in the 2006 Classic by beating Cuba, will defend its title by playing intracontinental rival Korea tonight, with first pitch slated for 9 p.m. ET.

3-23-09-Idelson_Wright.jpgLast night’s game had a similar feeling to the Korea-Venezuela semifinal on Saturday. Korea, featuring but one current Major Leaguer, Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin Soo Choo, faced a Venezuela club that was stocked with Major Leaguers. As any good team will do, the Koreans took advantage of five Venezuela errors and parlayed that into a bunch or runs and a lopsided victory.

The U.S. also played sloppily defensively, and Daisuke Matsuzaka was effective enough to keep the U.S. in check, allowing two runs over five innings. A three-run ninth inning for Japan turned a 6-4 game into a lopsided 9-4 final outcome.

The pageantry in the stands was vintage international sports. Japanese flags, thundersticks, balloons, homemade signs and constant enthusiasm gave Team Japan support and took any thoughts of home-field advantage away from the U.S. True, the support for the U.S. was strong, but there was great balance.

Japanese baseball Commissioner Ryozo Kato and all-time home-run leader Sadaharu Oh were in the stands, sitting in front of me. I first met the commissioner last spring in Washington, D.C., when U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England invited me to lunch in his Pentagon office with Kato and Stan Kasten of the Nationals.

At the time, Commissioner Kato, a very big baseball fan with a deep understanding of U.S. baseball history, was Japan’s ambassador to the United States. He is very proud of his national team.

After the Korea-Venezuela game, Brad Horn and I visited with U.S. reliever Brad Ziegler, who last year ran a record-string of scoreless frames for a pitcher starting his Major League career (and yes, he did donate his spikes). Ziegler, an impressive kid who has tremendous respect for the game and visited the Hall of Fame last fall to enjoy the game’s history, felt that the team chemistry was strong, allowing the U.S. to reach the semis. Chemistry in sports does matter, but the U.S. side just did not jell last night.

3-23-09-Idelson_Japan.jpgBefore the game yesterday, the team seemed loose. David Wright, who delivered the game-winning walkoff hit to propel the U.S. over Puerto Rico and into the semifinals, donated the bat he used to the Hall in the U.S. dugout. “I am so honored to be asked to have something in Cooperstown,” he told me. I let him know how grateful we were to him for recognizing that fans would want to see his bat for many years to come and thanked him for sharing it with the baseball public.

Tonight’s matchup should be terrific. You have a hungry team in Korea, whose players want to show they can beat a world-class team like Japan. The Koreans have 2008 league most valuable player Kwang-Hyun Kim, who was 16-4 with a 2.39 ERA last year, as well as the two players who finished second and third in the voting, outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim (.357 average) and first baseman Tae Kyun Kim (.324, 31 home runs, 92 RBI).

Japan has a host of talent, led by Ichiro Suzuki, who has 3,000 combined hits between the U.S. and Japan, pitching phenom Yu Darvish, who was 16-4 with a 1.88 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2008, and standout outfielder Norichika Aoki (.347 average in 2008).

It should be a great game, and the Pacific Rim again is showing the world that baseball is as important there as it is in Latin America or the Untied States.

Jeff Idelson is the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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