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.
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.