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Power surge: Japan belts record-tying 6 homers to drub Dutch, advance to semifinals

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Power surge: Japan belts record-tying 6 homers to drub Dutch, advance to semifinals

by John E. Gibson (Mar 12, 2013)

Dutch skipper Hensley Meulens talked about Samurai Japan and "small ball" in the pregame press conference.

The talk during the game was more about "wall ball" and longball.

Well-known for dropping down first-inning bunts and moving runners along, Samurai Japan went medieval on the Netherlands, bludgeoning them with 17 hits--10 for extra bases--in a 16-4 rout halted after seven innings on Sunday night at Tokyo Dome.

Japan took the shortest possible route to San Francisco, needing just two games to clinch a spot in the championship round, which starts on Sunday.

Japan left the Dutch shaking their heads after slugging a WBC-record-tying six homers, and the other three teams in the semifinals might have to think about Japan's power potential.

The Hanshin Tigers' Takashi Toritani started what ended up being a cycle of longballs for Japan. He hit the first of two solo blasts on the second pitch of the game, and Japan had a two-run homer, a pair of three-run shots and a grand slam.

"Saying that we're a 'small ball' team is kind of unbelievable, looking at this game. Hitting all these homers, it was like God gave us a gift after winning that game two days ago," Japan skipper Koji Yamamoto said, referring to Friday's 10-inning struggle against Taiwan.

"Our pitchers left the ball up today and they capitalized on all the mistakes we made," said Dutch manager Hensley Meulens, who played three season in Japan.

"They didn't miss any of the balls we left up and the game got out of hand very early."

Toritani got it going with his first hit of the WBC. The Fukoka Softbank Hawks' Nobuhiro Matsuda cracked a two-run shot in the second and teammate Seiichi Uchikawa went deep with two on later in the frame.

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters veteran Atsunori Inaba yanked a solo shot out to right in the third inning, and former teammate Yoshio Itoi--now with the Orix Buffaloes--stroked a three-run shot in the fourth. The Yomiuri Giants' Hayato Sakamoto completed the homer cycle with a grand slam deep to left in the seventh.

"I didn't expect them to hit six home runs--nobody expected that," Meulens said. "They had no home runs coming into this round here; they only had two extra-base hits and both of them were by Itoi and they were two doubles.

"But we knew they had power. We just didn't execute those pitches today."

For some players, the power explosion brought back memories of Tokyo Dome before Nippon Pro Baseball introduced the low-impact ball in 2011.

"I feel like when contact is made, there isn't the kind of weight in the ball like there is with the ones we use in NBP," Toritani said. "This ball has more life to it and it feels like there's not as much sluggishness to the ball off the bat."

Added Meulens, who played many times at Tokyo Dome while with the Lotte Marines and Yakult Swallows in the 1990s: "It's a hitters' ballpark, for sure. The ball travels well here. It's hard to keep the ball in this ballpark, especially this ballpark where the ball carries, when the ball is up in the zone."

Japan will play tonight against either Cuba or the Netherlands to decide the seeding for San Francisco.


Maeda mows down Dutch

Kenta Maeda, who had some shoulder issues prior to the final Samurai Japan roster being set, baffled the seventh-ranked Dutch over his five scoreless innings.

In two starts, Maeda has allowed just two hits and fanned 15 with one walk over 10 innings.

"Pitching in Japan is great. I think if you guys [look], most of the pitchers that leave here and go to the major leagues have good results," Meulens said.

"For me, too, when I played here years ago, the pitching was the strongest suit of this league. It's hard to get used to it--they throw a number of pitches and they command the ball very well."

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