Beating Japan in convincing fashion, Team Taiwan ended the 2006 XVI Intercontinental Cup Baseball Championship on a high note with a 4-0 shutout win in Taichung yesterday afternoon for a third-place finish.
The victory over Japan not only snapped an 11-game losing streak against that country in the tournament's 33-year history, but also gave the home team its best finish since 1983, when it also finished third behind Cuba and the US in Belgium.
Despite a slow start that saw Taiwan lose its first two contests in the preliminaries to Italy and Japan to begin the tournament with an 0-2 record, Taiwan was able to qualify for the fourth-and-final spot in the medal round with a 4-3 record by topping the defending champs from Cuba in a 4-3 win last Thursday.
PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUNG, TAIPEI TIMES
Starter Yang Jien-fu (Sinon Bulls) threw six impeccable innings of shutout ball on a two-hit effort for the win, with fellow righty Tseng Song-wei keeping the shutout intact with three scoreless innings of solid relief.
The battle for the bronze medal began with the home team drawing first blood in the bottom of the first, when red-hot outfielder Chang Jien-ming led off the game with a clean double off Japanese starter Saitoh Takashi and scored two batters later on second baseman Chen Yong-ji's RBI liner over the middle for a 1-0 lead.
After wasting a great scoring opportunity in the second that had Taiwan knocking on the door with back-to-back singles from catcher Yeh Jung-chang (Sinon Bulls) and shortstop Yang Chung-sho, the hosts finally broke loose with Chen's second base hit of the game before cleanup hitter Chang "Prince of the Forest" Tai-shan (Sinon Bulls) drilled a pitch over the left-center wall from Saitoh for a two-run blast that gave Taiwan a 3-0 lead.
The score remained 3-0 through the seventh after Taiwan failed to convert on a bases-loaded-with-one-out situation against Japanese reliever Morifuku Masanori in the sixth, until Yang added an insurance run for his team by leading off the eighth with a solo blast off the third Japanese reliever, Matsuoka Masashi, to make it 4-0.
That was all the runs that either team would produce with Tseng retiring the side in order in the top of the ninth to secure the victory for Taiwan.
With Yang Jien-fu not allowing a base runner in the game until the fourth and throwing a two-hitter with no walks through the sixth, Japan never reached third base until the seventh inning against Tseng, when it placed runners at the corner with no outs.
That was as close to scoring as Japan would get as Tseng then struck out the side in order to strand the runners.
Offensively for Taiwan, Chen's perfect three-for-three hitting with an RBI led an attack that rang up ten hits off five different Japanese pitchers with Chang and Yang also chipping in two hits apiece.
Taiwan 4, Cuba 5
An all-out rally in the top of the eighth fell one run short as Team Taiwan dropped a heartbreaker to Cuba in a 5-4 final at Taichung on Saturday night, missing a chance to advance into yesterday's title game.
Trailing 5-1 heading into the eighth, the hosts managed to score three times against three different Cuban relievers on designated hitter Chang Tai-shan's? one-run groundout and RBI singles by third baseman Lin Chuen-yi and first baseman Hsieh "the Ugly" Jia-shien (Macoto Cobras) to make it 5-4.
But with men on first and second and two outs against Cuba's ace closer Pedro Lazo, pinch-hitter Chen Guan-ren (Brother Elephants) struck out on three straight pitches to end the Taiwanese comeback.
Three singles off a rattled Taiwanese starter Pan "Du Du" Wei-luen (President Lions) quickly put the Cubans on top 1-0 in the opening inning. The damage would have been greater for Taiwan if it had not been for catcher Kao Chih-kang's rifling throw to second that gunned down a runner on an attempted base-steal and a picture-perfect relay throw from leftfield that beat a runner at the plate.
After a tough first, Pan was able to regroup and retire the next seven batters he faced to coast through the third before running into trouble again in the fourth when Cuba mustered its second offensive of the game that saw "DH" man Osmany Urrutia knocking in two runs with a bases-loaded single off Pan following three consecutive hits.
Ariel Pestano's grounder to third-off reliever Lin Yueh-ping (President Lions) would lead to another run for Cuba to make it 4-0 in favor of the defending champs, before Taiwan finally got on the board in the fifth on Yang Chung-sho's opposite-field double off the right field wall off Cuban starter Adiel Palma.
Team Cuba would get a run right back in the sixth on Urrutia's sacrifice fly to deep-right off Tseng Song-wei to make it 5-1, setting the stage for Taiwan's three-run rally.
Cuba defends its title
Team Cuba successfully defended its title in the 2006 XVI Intercontinental Cup Baseball Championship in Taichung last night with a 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Netherlands in extra innings.
Yoandry Urgelles' bases-clearing triple to deep-right off Dutch reliever Dave Draijer in the top of the eleventh broke a 3-3 tie for the defending champs and veteran closer Pedro Lazo got the final four outs in the game to earn the victory that gave Cuba its 10th title in 16 tries.
Cuba found itself in unfamiliar territory trailing the Netherlands 0-2 in the early going and had to rely on a seventh-inning surge to force a 2-2 tie that would eventually send the game into extra innings.
The defending champs took the lead in the top of the 10th on Giorvis Duvergel's solo homer off the Netherlands' Tom Stuifbergen for a 3-2 advantage, only for the resilient Dutch to answer with a game-tying single from Dirk van't Klooster that forced a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the inning.
The Netherlands' luck finally ran out in the eleventh, when Cuba led off the inning with consecutive singles off Draijer before he intentionally walked the next batter to load the bases, setting the table for Urgelles' game-winning swing.
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