Classic in Every Sense

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Japan defeats Korea to become two-time champions of the World Baseball Classic.

Left, Japan’s Seiichi Uchikawa and Akinori Iwamura celebrate with Hiroyuki Nakajima after scoring on Ichiro’s single in the tenth inning of the World Baseball Classic Championship game at Dodger Stadium Monday evening. Right, Ichiro holds up the WBC trophy that Japan defended, beating Korea 5-3.

Left, Japan’s Seiichi Uchikawa and Akinori Iwamura celebrate with Hiroyuki Nakajima after scoring on Ichiro’s single in the tenth inning of the World Baseball Classic Championship game at Dodger Stadium Monday evening. Right, Ichiro holds up the WBC trophy that Japan defended, beating Korea 5-3.

Photos by MichaelHiranoCulross/Rafu Shimpo

By the time Ichiro slapped his RBI single in the tenth inning, the championship game was one for the ages.

By Jordan Ikeda
Rafu Staff Writer

The world of baseball is changing. Many American sports writers would have us believe otherwise, but there is no denying this revolution. Not after Monday night’s historic World Baseball Classic championship game.

The atmosphere was otherworldly.

Fans decorated with their country’s colors, regardless of what country that was, banged sticks, drums and anything else that made noise while boisterously chanting as if at war.

“Nippon!” Clap, clap, clap. “Nip¬pon!” Clap, clap, clap.

Boom-boom, boom, “Daehan-min¬guk!” Boom-boom, boom. “Daehan-minguk!”

From the top deck down to the field level seats, white flags with the red and blue circles and black hash marks were being violently waved back and forth while white flags adorned with red circles fluttered in the slight wind. Even the red, white and blue of the stars and stripes could be spotted sprinkled throughout.
Those Americans who purchased tickets in advance, who might have been initially disappointed by their poorly constructed squad’s inability to once again advance to the finals, no doubt left late Monday evening having witnessed one of the greatest baseball games ever professionally played.

The WBC championship game at Dodger Stadium exemplified all that baseball could be, should be, and will be. It was baseball for the purist. Baseball the way the game was meant to be.

No jacked up steroid-infused body builders hitting 500-foot bombs, no ca¬sual third-to-seventh inning Hollywood fans, no already-set-for-life half-hearted efforts, no $250 million choke artist.

Instead, the 54,846 in attendance and the millions more watching around the world were given an epic game featur¬ing Japan and Korea that was pushed into ten innings and spanned nearly four hours.
Japan outlasted Olympic champion South Korea 5-3 to become repeat cham¬pions of the WBC after winning the in¬augural championship three years ago.

And how they rode to triumph was pure oldschool. Sacrifice flys. Bunt singles. Moving runners. Stolen bases. Hit-and-runs. Impeccable defense. Great pitching.

Victory by a thousand papercuts.

Despite enjoying a 15-5 hit advan¬tage, Japan blew several opportunities to push their lead, twice stranding runners on first and third with one out or less. In the end, however, it was the last hit that proved the difference.

Ichiro Suzuki, who had endured a brutal tournament up until the final game (going 8-38), hit a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th inning—his fourth hit of the night—to seal Japan’s victory.

Japan’s Seiichi Uchikawa and Akinori Iwamura celebrate with Hiroyuki Nakajima after scoring on Ichiro’s single in the tenth inning of the World Baseball Classic Championship game at Dodger Stadium Monday evening. Right, Ichiro holds up the WBC trophy that Japan defended, beating Korea 5-3.

Japan’s Seiichi Uchikawa and Akinori Iwamura celebrate with Hiroyuki Nakajima after scoring on Ichiro’s single in the tenth inning of the World Baseball Classic Championship game at Dodger Stadium Monday evening. Right, Ichiro holds up the WBC trophy that Japan defended, beating Korea 5-3.

Everyone will talk about Ichiro’s heroics, but the game was so much more than just one play. It was a collection of plays that both transcended and defined America’s favorite past time.

There was Japan’s starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma’s brilliance. The 2008 Sawamura award winner (Japan’s Cy Young) went 7 2/3 innings, allowing only four hits and two runs, while walking two and striking out six.

There was the Japanese squad patiently working Korea’s starting pitcher Jung Keun Bong, who had beaten them a week earlier, into 94 pitches in only four innings and forcing him nout early.

There was the stingy Korean defense that forced Japan into stranding 29 runners and twice turning critical 5-4-3 double plays, the second of which was a pure gem.

There was the Japanese pitching that held the big bat of Korean firstbaseman,

Tae Kyun Kim 0-3 with only a walk.

There was the two strike-’em-outthrow-’em-out double plays from each squad, one by Korea in the fifth followed by one by Japan in the sixth.

There was Japanese left fielder Seiichi Uchikawa sliding to cut off a possible double and then popping up and firing a bullet to second base to nail Young Min Ko, Korea’s second baseman.

There was Ko exacting a bit of revenge in the ninth by laying out to nab a screaming liner hit by Hiroyuki
Nakajima that helped keep Korea in the game. A run there and Korea’s probably not pushing the game into extra innings.

There was the pitch by Yu Darvish in the bottom of the ninth that had American scouts everywhere salivating when it registered 100 mph on the scoreboard.

There was Bum Ho Lee’s two-out RBI single only a handful of Darvish pitches later that sent the stadium into an uproar and the game into extra innings.

There was the decision to pitch to Ichiro. The decision to stick with Darvish.

There was the confetti. The trophy.

The Japan flag being unfurled on the field.

And of course there were the fans.

The fans who continued to roll into the stadium during the seventh and eight innings. The fans who traveled across oceans from East Asia to witness the game and cheer their team. The fans who ruined vocal chords from cheering and singing. The fans who stayed an hour after the game had finished to bask in the glow of victory.

Fans who epitomized the word “fan.”

The endless sea of sky blue bodies that sent shivers throughout Chavez Ravine with their voices every time
Korea was on the field.

A young Japanese man wearing spandex tights and going shirtless with his upper torso and face slathered in white paint, his chest emblazoned with a red sun.

The countless groups of young Korean college-age kids, banging drums and screaming “Daehan-minguk!” at every opportunity, regardless of the score.

The Matsuzaka signs. The Park jerseys.  The ThunderStix.

And all the way at the top of Dodger Stadium, way up in the upper deck, there was a crowd of raucous Japanese fans chanting until their voices went raspy.

Fans who over the course of two games, continued to chant Ichiro’s name despite his poor tournament. Continued to support him in spite of his failures. Continued to chant his name during every plate appearance. Continued to cheer through four foul tips.

In the end, their hero did not disappoint.

And neither did the WBC.

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