Game 16: Japan 5 vs. Latin America 4

Movin’ on up
Despite knotting the game in the fifth, Venezuela couldn’t complete the come-from-behind win, falling to annual powerhouse Japan, 5-4, as the Chiba City Little Leaguers secure their spot in the international semifinal.

Author: Allie Weinberger, Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Monday, August 24, 2009, 2:00pm ET

With two outs and runners in scoring position on the losing end of a 4-2 game Monday afternoon at Volunteer Stadium, the go-ahead run, Venezuela pitcher and cleanup hitter Mikey Edie, dug his foot into the batter’s box.

Motoki Takashima delivered. Swing, crack! and into right field. Two runs came around to score, thanks to the groundwork laid by Jose Briceno and Jose Medina to open the top of the fifth, knotting the Latin America champs with Japan at 4-4 in one of the most important games left in pool play of the 2009 Little League Baseball World Series.

But when Edie tried to take second on the throw home, the two-run rally would be put to an end with one quick fastball from catcher to shortstop. Gunned down at second, he left the field having given his team the tie, but no lead.

And after a scoreless bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth that would keep the score tied at 4-4, losing that momentum would prove detrimental.

“The game-tying hit, if he would have been safe at second perhaps things would have been different because a very good hitter was coming up after him,” said Latin America manager Freddy Moran through interpreter Luis Arias. “It killed the rally.”

But while the always strong Japan side came up in the bottom of the sixth with three more outs to give, a very convincing Edie returned to the mound for Venezuela.

Takashima stepped up to the plate and struck out swinging. So did Kouki Kimura. And just when Venezuela started to think they would get another chance to bat, one last chance to keep their season alive, disaster struck.

Toshinori Wakai, already 2-for-3 on the day, took first after being hit by a pitch. As Naoto Ogura stepped in, he knew he needed to put the ball in play.

“I was really listening when Coach when he said don’t swing at the low ball,” said Ogura through interpreter Kotaro Omori. “And I took that advice. Before the final at bat, I couldn’t hit so I tried to relax and forget it.”

And just like that, Ogura’s bat found the offering, guiding it toward second baseman Ender Chaparro. The ball took a bounce through the infield and into centerfield.

Already safe at second, Wakai saw his opportunity and took it, dashing toward third in hopes of beating what he knew was the throw from centerfielder Oberto Munoz. But when that throw nicked his helmet and ricocheted away, Wakai, Ogura and the entire Japanese side knew that they had achieved their next destination: advancing on to the international semifinal.

“There is really really big pressure [to move on] because Japan [has] never lost in the qualifying round [since the field expanded to 16 teams in 2001],” said manager Hirofumi Oda. “[But] I knew that last inning was coming so I wanted to make the win in that final inning.”

“They’ve been practicing over and over all different game situations, in particular making unnecessary throws,” said Moran. “Those unnecessary throws are what lead to an outcome like today.”

But until the fifth frame, the little leaguers from Chiba City, Japan were the ones with a stronghold on the offensive momentum.

Japan scored three in a four-hit bottom of the second, tacking on an extra run in the third after Wakai turned a leadoff single into a trip just 60 feet from home, thanks to a two-base error. Ogura recorded his only RBI on the game with a single to left center, driving Wakai home for a 4-0 advantage. All four runs came off Venezuela starter Munoz, who went 2.2 innings, allowing seven hits and four runs with five strikeouts.

“He’s an experienced pitcher but in order for him to pitch effectively, he has to have players behind him make the plays,” said Moran. “[If the doesn’t], he can break down easily.”

But Medina cut into the home team’s lead to open the fourth with a towering home run hit well over the left field fence.

Edie followed with a hit of his own in to right, advancing to second on a wild pitch. With one out, Munoz blazed a shot toward short, where it skirted off Kenya Kawashima’s glove and into the outfield grass for an RBI single that would cut Japan’s lead in half, 4-2.

The Venezuelan champs would make up the rest of the difference in the fifth, leading up to Japan’s eventual 5-4 walkoff win in the bottom of the sixth.

“They are really pressured, but they’re really the best and I really appreciate them,” Oda said of his little leaguers. “We have a strong heart.”

Edie took the loss for Latin America, despite throwing three innings of no hit ball. Takashima earned the win after relieving starter Jun Magoyama, who allowed five hits and two runs with three strikeouts in 3.1 innings of work. Takashima allowed three hits and a pair of runs, fanning four in the final 2.2 frames.

With the win, Japan moves to 2-1 in pool play and has secured a spot in the international semifinal, to be played either Wednesday or Thursday at 4 p.m., dependent on the results of the remaining pool play contests. Venezuela falls to 0-2 and is eliminated from advancing out of pool play with the loss, but will take on Saudi Arabia in one final contest Tuesday, Aug. 25 at noon.