A Classic Worthy of The Name

» 24 March 2009 » In international baseball »

Last night’s Japan-Korea final was certainly the best WBC game I’ve ever seen, and probably the best one in the WBC’s short history. The live chat I hosted during the game was missing a few of the usual suspects but was a great one — thanks everyone who participated.

Here are my bullet points on the good…

  • Both Japan and Korea should be proud of the game they played. Both teams had a chance to win and I think they both earned a lot of respect internationally. I’ve always been interested in Korean baseball, but I’ll certainly follow the KBO a little more closely this year. Rather than winning bragging rights over each other, I think they’ve both earned bragging rights in the international baseball world.
  • For my money, Hisashi Iwakuma was the tournament MVP.
  • Japan executed small ball tactics pretty well over the last three games. I saw at least three successful hit and run plays, and a number of good bunts and lots of good defense. 
  • The Japan-Korea rivalry created an electric atmosphere. I’d love to see the two countries get together for something like The Ashes.
  • Everyone is second-guessing Korea manager In-Sik Kim’s decision to pitch to Ichiro in the 10th, but to me the decision wasn’t totally cut and dry. Ichiro hadn’t performed in the WBC until the final game, and Hiroyuki Nakajima had had a pretty good tournament. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with his call, but had he walked Ichiro we might be wondering why he loaded the bases for Nakajima.
  • I actually think Hara made pretty good moves over the last few games. 
  • Unheralded players of the tournament for me are Toshiya Sugiuchi and Satoshi Komatsu.

And the less good…

  • Yu Darvish really struggled with his command in the 9th inning last night. Ultimately it made the game more exciting, but he could have challenged hitters with his excellent fastball a little more, particularly with no one on base.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka, like Darvish had a bad habit of nibbling until he got into trouble, and then challenging hitters. Guys, you have good stuff! Go after hitters.
  • Japan played five games against Korea, two against Cuba, and one each against China and the USA. It didn’t detract from the final, but the seeding game was pretty mellow compared to the others. 
  • Japan won despite having Yoshiyuki Kamei on the roster.


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  1. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 11:36 am Permalink

    When Ichiro was up to bat in the 10th, they began by pitching around him. He swung at a couple of awful pitches and got behind 1-2. At that point, why not pitch to him? The pitch Ichiro hit was a mistake, but I agree with the strategy to go after him with 2 strikes. And I agree, Iwakuma should have been the MVP.

  2. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 12:48 pm Permalink

    Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch the game because I was laying down with a flu or something like that. But the short bits I saw looked amazing. That one play in left field by Uchikawa was extraordinary. All in all the defense on both teams looked pretty strong.
    I can’t help but think of the English team in the first football World Cups. Maybe just as the American team in the WBC they always thought of themselves as the best team in world football and it took them 36 years to win their first (and up until now only) championship.
    It’s interesting you mention The Ashes. I didn’t know that people in the USA know about this. It’s the cricket “trophy” for England and Australia, right? Sounds great to me to have something like that in baseball as well.

  3. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 1:50 pm Permalink

    You missed a good one Jan.

    I grew up reading British magazines in high school, mostly about cars and music, and had friends from England and Australia in Japan. I think I picked up the Ashes through osmosis from all that. Actually one of my Indian friends here in California is supposed to teach me how to play Cricket but we never have the time for it.

  4. Patrick
    Scott Kaneko
    24/03/2009 at 2:17 pm Permalink

    Didn’t Ogasawara kind of suck. I would have thrown him a steady diet of fastballs.

    Johjima looked horrible in the last game. He was an automatic out and seemed to have no clue.

    The Japanese pitcher were pretty awesome. My wife and sister are in love with Darvish. Ugh!

  5. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 8:36 pm Permalink

    I was at a sports bar with some of the “usual suspects” watching the game and we were not particularly impressed with Hara’s lineup when we saw it.
    I know lefty/righty matchups are important, but it still baffles me how a jet-lagged Kurihara was chosen over Inaba to play DH.
    Also, Jojima as #4 hitter sounded like a horrible idea and the game proved that it was.

  6. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 9:01 pm Permalink

    I was going to put that in my negatives, but then I remembered that the lineups Hara put up against Bong didn’t do much of anything in the two previous games, so I let him slide on that.

  7. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 11:40 pm Permalink

    Yup, I was with Pau and we were in agreement. But good point about Bong dominating Japan in earlier games, so trying something new (and Joh was swinging a hot bat through much of the tourney) could’ve worked out. But he seemed to completely falter under pressure of hitting cleanup. Koreans were walking Aoki to get to Joh. Well, Aoki is the best hitter in Japan, but still that questions the lineup construction.

  8. Patrick
    24/03/2009 at 11:57 pm Permalink

    Well, breaking it down —

    Benching Fukudome for Uchikawa -> Good
    DH’ing Kurihara over Inaba -> Bad, but Hara realized it and pulled him after Bong left the game. I didn’t like this call.
    Batting Joh cleanup -> seemed reasonable against the lefty Bong, but didn’t work out
    Starting Kataoka at 3rd -> I would have rather seen Kawasaki, but Kataoka went 2/4

    So I can’t believe I’m sticking up for Hara here, but that doesn’t seem too bad. If Murata were in the game he would have started at third and batted cleanup.

  9. Patrick
    25/03/2009 at 12:04 am Permalink

    Yeah, I guess it’s too easy to focus on the bad points when it comes to Hara 😛
    He also left Iwakuma in the game for too long though, his pitches were left high in the zone in the 7th, as evidenced by the 3 big fly balls that were thankfully turned into outs, he’s a groundball pitcher so that’s a sign that he was losing his stuff and command by then, and Japan had plenty of fresh, lively arms in the pen. But Hara tends to commit to his starters which isn’t unusual in Japan and he did that in the Japan Series last year too.

  10. Patrick
    25/03/2009 at 12:17 am Permalink

    Yeah, that’s a valid criticism. Iwakuma’s last few batters definitely gave him a hard time. At least he went with Sugiuchi and not his boy Yamaguchi.

  11. Patrick
    25/03/2009 at 2:58 am Permalink

    Another point about Ichiro’s last at-bat and the evaluation of Hara’s managerial decisions is Iwamura’s steal early in the count. That’s usually a tell tell sign to walk the batter for both sides. So Hara agrees with you in terms of what Nakajima would have done. The Korean manager didn’t take Hara’s offering. (Don’t believe the comment where he tried to throw his players under the bus by saying they didn’t see his instruction.) After the full last at-bat, I disagree with PWHjort. They are cleary attacking the strike zone. In fact, the pitcher wasn’t so sure that he stepped off the plate after the first pitch for ball, which was boderline strike, and the cather looked at the Korean bench.

    I still think that it’s a good strategy to take away from the best player an opportunity to beat you. Ichiro might not have been performing up to the final, but if you just look at his at-bats in the final, he was on. The first at-bat for a single and a perfectly laid down bunt hit at the 4th at-bat. I almost knew he was going to hit when dug out the 5th pitch from ground at the last at-bat. I’ve watched the man that closely. The man is unpredicatable, taken not literally because I said I almost knew, and something special for sure. You just can’t pitch to that kind of player in that situation.

    So considering what Ichiro did, does sending Iwamura go to Hara’s positive or negative point?

    PS. Is your comment about the decision influenced any way by Joe Morgan’s incessant man-crush on Ichiro?

  12. Patrick
    25/03/2009 at 8:38 am Permalink

    For me, sending Iwamura was a positive — the battery wasn’t paying any attention to the runners, and you either get two guys in scoring position for Ichiro or set up a bases loaded chance for Nakajima. Two outs either way but I’ll take either of those situations.

    I liked this approach much better than what Hara did in the seeding game of Round 1 against Korea, when he had Ichiro on first, and bunted him over to second. I think he should have sent Ichiro and let Nakajima hit, rather than giving up an automatic out.

  13. Patrick
    25/03/2009 at 8:39 am Permalink

    And no, Joe Morgan had no effect on my opinion on this. He is annoying, but I tend to forget whatever he was talking about as soon as I turn off the TV.


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