If you didn’t watch the game last night, you really missed out. Even though team USA left one game early, this last game was well worth watching. Jung Keun Bong started for Korea, and Japan had to be at least a little concerned. He had faced them twice in this WBC, and allowed only 1 ER in 11 IP. He was pretty strong in this one as well, working his way into and out of trouble, but only for 4 innings, allowing 1 run. Korea, on the other hand, couldn’t muster so much as a hit against Japan’s starter Iwakuma in the first 3 2/3 innings.
2 of the last 3 games in the World Baseball Classic have been played, and the finals are set for tonight. Korea trounced Cuba 10-2 on Saturday. Sunday night the US played Japan, and the game started out with a HR by Brian Roberts in the very first AB off of Dice-K. Japan was able to score in the bottom of the second, but a 3rd inning in which Dice-K threw more than 30 pitches and the US score a run to go up 2-1 looked like the beginning of the end for Japan. After a quick bottom of the 3rd by Oswalt, the US was right back out hitting and Matsusaka had to start pitching again with barely a break. But the US went down in order, and that may have been the spark for Japan.
The matchups are set, as Japan beat Korea last night 6-2. The game was close, 2-1 Japan until the 7th when Korea tied it up. But Japan came roaring back and scored 3 in the top of the 8th, from there it was pretty much over. The semifinals are now set, Korea plays Venezuela Saturday evening, and Japan will play the US on Sunday night at 8 pm. This is now a single elimination tournament. This is, to parallel some other current sporting event, the final four.
What to Expect from Japan
In a word, it’s pitching. Japan has the second best ERA in the tournament, behind only the Dominican Republic. In 7 full games, they have a TEAM ERA of 1.21. 3 of their games were shutouts. Their pitching staff has also cobbled together 54 Ks in 60 IP, and a WHIP of 0.95. One of the big reasons they’ve done so well is Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, and it looks like he might start against the US on Sunday night. That would be pretty exciting to watch, and see how they handle him.
It’s like they knew that people weren’t paying enough attention. They wanted to add some drama. As I said, the bullpen did a pretty decent job of holding the lead. Not great, not enough, but they never let this game get away, and only surrended 2 runs in 5+ innings. Credit Joel Hanrahan for shutting down Puerto Rico after they tied it in the 4th and Matt Thornton for pitching a scoreless 5th. In the 6th, Heath Bell gave up a run, and Scott Shields came in with 2 on and 2 outs. Shields was able to get a 62 year old Bernie Williams to ground out and kill the threat. Shields finsihed the 7th as well, and JJ Putz pitched a scoreless 8th. Broxton gave up a run in the 9th to make things scarier. But Team USA fell behind 4-3 in the 6th, blew an offensive opportunity in the 7th, and allowed another run in the top of the 9th. Down 5-3, with the way the last few innings played out it didn’t look good.
Puerto Rico had brought in JC Romero to finish the 8th and he continued into the 9th. “Wait,” you say,” isn’t Romero banned from Major League Baseball for 50 games after testing positive for steroids?” Well, you are an idiot, because this isn’t the MLB, it’s the WBC! So after Romero Ks McCann to end the 8th, he started off the 9th by giving up a hit to the Shane Victorino.
Tonight at 7 pm, you can watch and see who’s going to lose to Louisville, or watch team USA perhaps play it’s last game of the WBC. Should be a good matchup, and Puerto Rico is a tough team. Yesterday’s loss was their first of the tournament. On the other side, USA has lost twice already, once to Puerto Rico. And Puerto Rico beat them like 72-3. 11-1, actually.
But, as with baseball, the best team only wins 2/3 of the time (or something like that, don’t quote my number there). Puerto Rico has looked the best of any team so far, but the US is still a very good team. Although they do have some extra issues to deal with coming in to this game. Ryan Braun may have to sit, he’s having an MRI on his knee (sorry Brewers fans) and reliever Matt Lindstrom is having the same on his shoulder. Even if they are both fine, something tells me their not in today. Both players are somewhat replaceable, but Braun’s absence significantly reduces the offense. Whether you replace him with Victorino or DeRosa, neither are quite the hitter. Of course, they are both better defenders. Braun did say he intended to play today, but I’ll believe it when I see it.