Game 25: Mexico 6 vs. Japan 0

One-hit wonder
Mexico is on its way to the International Championship Game after 6-0 win over Japan on the back of a combined one-hitter.

Author: Allie Weinberger - Special Correspondent

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 4:00pm ET

A team of heroes walked out onto the diamond with a 6-0 lead over what can only be called a Little League World Series dynasty as the evening hours set in on the bottom of the sixth in Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

Raul Rojas toed the rubber, just as he did in a 3-2 win the night before – this time with a little more wiggle room. But with a team like Japan, no lead is safe.

After all, Japan’s Series dominance is unquestionable. A team hailing from Japan has appeared in 12 of the last 13 Little League World Series, the only exception coming in 2004 when what was then the Far East region was represented by Chinese Taipei. And in each and every one of those 12 visits to Williamsport dating to 1997, the representatives from Japan have advanced to the International Championship game.

But after just a single half inning in Wednesday’s International semifinal against undefeated Pool D champ Mexico, it was clear that this year’s team was in grave danger of shifting that pattern.

Five and a half innings later, that precise storyline would run its course as Mexico completed its 6-0 victory, a combined one-hitter, to punch the first ticket into Saturday’s International Championship game.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m famous,” said Rojas, who hit a two-run homer and pitched the final 1.2 innings to close out the win.

“This is very significant,” said Mexico coach Carlos Noguera through interpreter Sergio Guzman. “To beat Japan – they are a very disciplined team. They do everything to perfection, they strive to do everything perfectly. They are very disciplined on offense and defense so it’s very significant for us to beat them.”

Only four of Japan’s baserunners advanced as far as second base as the Chiba City Little Leaguers recorded just one hit, breaking up Mexico’s bid at the country’s third no-hitter and just the 21st in Series history.

“The [biggest] reason was that our team’s batting was really not [as sharp] as usual,” manager Hirofumi Oda said through interpreter Kotaro Omori. “In Japan, our team’s strength is in our batting.”

But Mexico hurler Raymundo Berrones made easy work of the Chiba City gang, allowing just seven total base runners through 4.1 innings in the Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little Leaguers’ second no-hit bid in as many nights.

“[Mexico’s] opening pitcher was really, really good,” said Oda. “[His] speed is really different [from pitch-to-pitch], so we couldn’t get the timing.”

The bid would last through a full five, until Naoto Ogura finally got to the Mexico staff in the sixth, slapping an infield hit off Rojas.

Mexico would not be as kind, continuing its offensive prowess from the very first at-bat. Each of the nine Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little Leaguers would come to the plate against Japan starter Wakai in the bottom of the first, with Oscar Noguera leading off with a hit into right to jumpstart Mexico’s potent offense.

Rojas gave his side a 2-0 lead the following at-bat, blasting a home run to the deepest part of the park. Luis Trevino kept the rally rolling with a bloop single to left, advancing to third on a pair of wild pitches and touching home three batters later on Jaime Longoria’s rope to the same spot.

“I feel very happy because I was able to hit a home run,” said Rojas. “My family was there to support me and they believed in me, so I was very happy.”

Left fielder Allan Willburn drove in two more from the eight spot with a near homer to center that bounced high into the air off the wall and in for a double before Wakai got out of the inning with a fanning of Agustin Montoya. But the damage was already done as Japan headed into the second with a 5-0 deficit.

Mexico would score again the next frame, when two walks and a pair of wild pitches plated leadoff man Noguera. But they wouldn’t get another hit after the explosion in the first.

“I have a lot of respect for Japan,” Manager Noguera said. “Every single year they come out strong and they adapt and adjust very quickly. They are very intelligent. They realized in the first inning that they were throwing fastballs and Raul got a piece of it. After that they didn’t throw any more fastballs the rest of the game.”

Wakai would settle down in the third, getting the Mexico champs to sit down in order.

“Wakai, he really has guts,” Oda said of his starter. “It’s not [that he was] nervous, just too excited.

“They really did their best,” he continued. “And after the first inning, [Wakai] just lost one point so he did really good.”

But Berrones matched his counterpart pitch for pitch, getting three-up, three-down performances in his half of the third and fourth, keeping the score stable at 6-0. The feat also marked the second-straight contest in which Mexico’s starter would enter the fifth with a no-hit bid intact.

“I was just trying to give it my best out there and win, win, win – throw as hard as I can,” said Berrones. “Nobody told me anything about the no-hitter. I realized myself that I was in a good situation.”

Berrones’s day would end in similar fashion as teammate Marcelo Martinez the night before. At his exit after hitting the 85-pitch limit, Berrones had allowed just five baserunners, none put on by way of a hit, fanning 10 and striking out the side once.

“My impression [of all our opponents’ pitching] is control was really good and the curveball and breaking ball too,” said Oda. “In Japan, we didn’t see that kind of pitcher as much.”

Rojas came in for the final 1.2 innings, and while Japan would manage a hit in the top of the sixth, the reliever would complete the 6-0 win with three straight strikeouts.

“I feel very, very happy of this dream because we worked really hard to get here,” said Berrones. “We practiced a lot back in Reynosa. We practiced every day and because of it we lost friendships. We had lots of practice so we didn’t see people we liked and loved, but now I’m really happy to be here.”

With the win, Mexico (4-0) moves on to Saturday’s International Championship game, where they will face the winner of Thursday’s second International semifinal between Chinese Taipei and Curacao. The International final is slated for noon at Lamade Stadium.

But Japan (2-2) isn’t going home unhappy, or unchanged after its time in Williamsport.

“This is really a good stage, Williamsport,” said Oda. “If you do really your best, dreams will come true – I want them to know about it. And also that you have to be patient in order to win baseball games.”

Meanwhile, the Mexico champs know how their success has changed them – and how it should affect them from here on out.

“We can’t really feel like we’re all that,” said Willburn. “We must stay calm and very modest and get ready to play the next game.”