Japanese media and fans regretted yesterday that extreme pressure and a base-running blunder had led two-time champions Japan to miss the World Baseball Classic final for the first time in three editions.
“The curtain falls on misfiring Samurai’s challenge”, read a headline in the Asahi Shimbun’s evening edition yesterday, just a few hours after Japan bowed 3-1 to underdogs Puerto Rico in the WBC semi-finals in San Francisco.
Japanese fans watched the game live on television, packing sports bars and cheering for the Samurai, who lacked US major league players for the first time.
“Japan batters came under pressure after Maeda yielded a run,” the Jiji Press news agency reported. “They could not hit on chances possibly because they rushed too much to catch up.”
When pinch-hitter Kazuo Matsui popped up with two outs in the bottom of the final inning, about 80 customers at the sports bar “Kickers” in Tokyo’s upscale district of Akasaka heaved a collective sigh, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.
“They have come a long way to the semi-finals without the services of major league players,” said one of the customers, 39-year-old company employee Takashi Nezu. “They have almost realized their dream of the three-peat.”
This year’s Samurai lacked major league talent as star players Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Ichiro Suzuki all chose to skip the event.