Japan – the only team to have ever won the World Baseball Classic – will not be winning it for a third time after losing to Puerto Rico in the semi-final.
Even with a squad devoid of major leaguers and a mere six months to prepare his team, Japan manager Koji Yamamoto still felt immense pressure to continue his country’s dominance in the World Baseball Classic. This time, two-time reigning champion Japan couldn’t pull off a remarkable three-peat. Yamamoto took it personally. How could he not on a night Japan lost 3-1 to Puerto Rico after the tournament honored the WBC’s two previous winning managers from his homeland?
“Of course I have aimed for three consecutive winning championships, and I had some expectation that we would be able to do that,” the 66-year-old skipper said. “But this is such a big international game, and it’s been a while since I did the big international game. I did have pressure that I need to do this. However, this was a great experience being as old as I am. I was able to really feel the challenge of the match and being able to face this kind of challenge, it was really exciting.”
The two former WBC-winning Japanese managers were in attendance – Sadaharu Oh (2006) and Tatsunori Hara (’09) – and each threw out a ceremonial first pitch, accompanied by Puerto Rican Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda.
Unlike the two previous WBC winners from Japan, this team lacked international star power without the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish.
“We were all domestic players from Nippon baseball,” Yamamoto said. “It’s challenging to get adjusted before the season, so as a team, despite the challenges, they really had the unity to fight the game.”
Hirokazu Ibata drove in the team’s lone run with an eighth-inning single against Randy Fontanez, but Japan missed a chance with a costly baserunning blunder a botched double-steal attempt. It also had the tying run at the plate in the ninth but Fernando Cabrera closed out the win.