Little League World Series

Game 4: Japan 4 vs. Mexico 2

Maruoka magic

Ginga Maruoka’s three-run shot with two out in the top of the sixth vaults Japan to 4-2 win in Opening Day action in Friday’s nightcap.

Author: Allison Weinberger

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Friday, August 20, 2010, 8:00pm ET

Talk about bang for your buck – this matchup screams final weekend. And it’s happening… Day One?
Rarely does a game like this happen in pool play at all – just 11 times in history. But never, yes never, have such perennial powerhouses as Japan and Mexico faced off on the first day of Little League World Series action.

Until now.

The nightcap of what turned out to be an exciting opening to the 2010 Little League Baseball World Series pitted Japan – a country that has been to nine championship games – against Mexico – a nation with six appearances on the final Sunday of World Series action. And it was everything it promised to be.

A pitchers’ duel at its finest, Friday’s finale was highlighted by 24 strikeouts and just six runs – five of them coming in the final frame – en route to a come-from-behind 4-2 victory for Japan.

But Mexico appeared to have the game all but wrapped up, scoring the only run of the first five innings in the bottom of the third, despite the stellar pitching of Japan’s Natsuki Mizumachi.

After setting down the side in order in each of the first two innings, Mizumachi allowed the first of just four Mexico hits with one out in the third when Jorge Alberto Mares dropped a single into shallow center to break up five-straight strikeouts from the Japanese starter.

Two batters later, a double to right center off the bat of Aldo Azael Buendia plated Mares before Mizumachi struck out the side, limiting the Oriente Little Leaguers to a single run.

Oriente would threaten again in the fourth, after an uncharacteristic miscue by the Japanese defense gave the Mexico champs their third baserunner of the evening. But it wouldn’t faze Mazumachi, who struck out the side for the third-consecutive inning to get out of the jam.

It was more of the same in the fifth, when back-to-back impressive defensive plays from the visitors negated a leadoff double, thwarting Mexico’s chances of extending its lead and keeping the deficit at 1-0 entering Japan’s final three outs.

But in the top of the sixth, reliever Hugo Paulo Mendiola Jr. issued a free pass to Kaname Shinozaki with one out, placing the tying run on first. Mexico would pull the pitcher in favor of Ricardo Puga, who got his side within one out of the win on the very next batter.

But in the fashion of any championship-caliber matchup, the excitement wasn’t close to over.

A Takeshi Saito line drive back to the mound ricocheted off the leg of Puga and dribbled onto the infield dirt to put a pair on for leadoff hitter Ginga Maruoka, and he wouldn’t let the opportunity escape him.

Maruoka needed just a single pitch from Puga to change the entire momentum of the game, ripping an opposite field home run over the wall in left centerfield and turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead.

“I was very happy about it,” said Maruoka through translator Brian Thompson. “When I swung the bat, I was under the impression that we were still in it so I put everything I had behind it.

”Ryota Norimatsu followed it up with a two-bagger to left, stealing his way to just 60 feet from home during the next at bat. A passed ball would plate the run, upping Japan’s lead to 4-1.

Alan Alejandro Alarcon would take over pitching duties for Mexico to close out the top of the frame, getting Ichiro Ogasawara to pop out up the middle, but not before a scary collision between Mexico’s middle infielders on the edge of the grass.

“He’ll be fine,” said manager Armando Rodriguez of his injured second baseman. “It was a knee to the groin from the other player. I spoke to him and he’ll be fine for the next game.”

Mexico would cut into Japan’s lead with two out in the bottom of the inning off an Eduardo Mata long ball, but the Oriente Little Leaguers couldn’t generate enough momentum against closer Ogasawara to take back the win.

On the day, the teams stranded a combined 11 baserunners (eight for Japan, including leaving the bases loaded in the top of the third), thanks mostly in part to superior pitching from both staffs. Mexico starter Enrique Penaloza struck out nine while keeping the Japanese champs scoreless with just five hits before reaching the pitch limit with one out in the fifth.

“He pitched to the level that we were expecting,” said manager Armando Rodriguez through translator Sergio Guzman. “There is nothing more to say on his performance other than that he did throw a lot of pitches in the third inning [31], and then we had to go to a second and third pitcher because of the pitch count. But overall, hats off to our player. He got stronger as the game went on and actually finished stronger than he was in the first couple of innings.”

His counterpart would have an equally impressive night, striking out 11 and allowing one run on a trio of hits in 5.1 frames to get the victory.

“In qualifying play in Japan, we had a lot of comeback wins in the final inning as well,” said Japan manager Shingo Ariyasu, “and I had the confidence in my players to come back again.”