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Wild ending / Japan scrapes past Giants in 10th in its final WBC warmup

by Jim Allen (Mar 2, 2009)

Despite a victory in its final World Baseball Classic warmup game, Japan's national team underperformed once more as Ichiro Suzuki continued to be a bust at the plate.

With 42,822 on hand, Japan just scraped out a 2-1, 10-inning victory over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome that was decided on a wild pitch as Suzuki went hitless in five at-bats.

"I'm not worried about him at all," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said of Suzuki's lack of hits.

"He's healthy, he can run at full speed and throw, although it's true he hasn't turned it all on yet."

The Seattle Mariners star slipped to 3-for-23 in six games with Japan this year. All three of his hits in previous games have been infield singles, although Suzuki hit the ball hard his last two times up. Leading off the 10th, center fielder Tetsuya Matsumoto denied him with a diving catch.

The game was head for a 10-inning tie until a hit batsman and two walks loaded the bases with two outs. Wirfin Obispo then entered the game and promptly ended it with a game-ending wild pitch.

Japan's next game will be the WBC opener here on Thursday against China. Japan and China will practice the next two days, while South Korea and Taiwan each play two warmups against the Giants and Saitama Seibu Lions.

After taking a 7-2 beating on Saturday at the hands of the Lions, Japan fell behind in the first inning against the Giants. New import Edgardo Alfonzo opened the scoring with a homer off an 0-2 pitch from lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi.

"Although I was the starter, mentally I was trying to shut them down completely and I pressed a little too hard," Sugiuchi said.

"My form was as good as last time, although I know I can't leave a pitch like that up to a foreign hitter."

Daisuke Matsuzaka took over in the third inning to a thunderous ovation. The Red Sox right-hander issued a walk in each of his first two innings and allowed a single to Alfonzo in a scoreless fifth.

"His velocity was not up to spec, but his command was very good," said catcher Kenji Jojima. "Although I didn't catch him before, he wasn't hanging anything like he did last time. I think he'll be up to full speed pretty soon."

Hara said game's biggest positive was that his No. 1 catcher has now worked with almost all of his pitchers.

"Even if a pitcher is not 100 percent, he's seen that pitcher and now has a frame of reference to work from."

The catcher tied the game in the bottom of the fifth after Seiichi Uchikawa set Japan up for a score against Australian lefty Adrian Burnside.

Uchikawa, the Central League's 2008 batting champion, singled with one out, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a ground single by Jojima.

Suzuki, who ended the third with the tying run on second, failed to push across the go-ahead run in the fifth when he grounded Japan out of the inning.

Kosuke Fukudome, whose two-out fly ball ended a bases-loaded chance in the seventh, redeemed himself with a throw from the outfield that helped the game go to extra innings.

With two out and runners on first and second in the eighth inning, Hideaki Wakui came to the mound and surrendered a potential RBI single. Fukudome, however, charged the ball and threw a strike to Jojima at the plate to end the inning.

When Japan had one-out scoring opportunities in the ninth and 10th, Hara opted to sacrifice both times.

Although Jojima hit 211 homers before moving to the majors, Hara had him bunting with one out. The skipper repeated the feat with No. 3 man Norichika Aoki, a career .338 hitter, in the 10th.

A trio from the South Korean national team took in the game to size up the competition.

"The Japanese are quality players, but they are not yet in peak condition," said first baseman Kim Tae Kyun, who was joined in his less-than-secret mission by battery coach Han Song Wu and catcher Kang Min Ho.


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