Japan outhit Korea 10-2 but wasted scoring opportunities, including two runners at home plate. Korea trailed 2-0 until they scored on a run to base in the bottom of the seventh, but shortstop Jin Nakamura made a critical play that secured the win.
Dominant pitching and solid defence were key to Japan’s two runs, but shortstop Jin Nakamura’s play saved the day for the World No. 1 to eclipse their East Asian rivals Korea 2-1 in the IV WBSC U-23 Baseball World Cup on Friday.
Korea only had one hit over six innings and the second one came in the bottom of the seventh, which would have tied the game if shortstop Jin Nakamura had not stopped the sharp grounder with a diving catch.
Korea’s starter Kijung Kim struggled early as he allowed a walk and hit a batter in the top of the first. Japan’s left fielder Ryuga Ihara got to him with a single and shortstop Hanbyul Kim handled the relay from the outfield and fired to catcher Seongbin Son to get the out at home.
Japan scored in the fourth. Center fielder Yuto Hirano doubled to the left and scored on a base hit by third baseman Hiroki Nakagawa.
Tetsuyuki Fujimura handled Korea’s bats well. After posting three perfect innings, he allowed the first hit in the bottom of the fourth and left without conceding anything else.
In the top of the fifth, Japan made it 2-0, taking advantage of reliever Juhyung Lee who struggled to hit his spots. Shortstop Jin Nakamura got to him with a towering pop that landed on the rightfield foul line and scored Ihara from second. Ren Onishi tried to score from first but became the second out at home plate.
In the bottom of the seventh, Japan handed the ball to star closer Ryusei Gonda. Despite working with a 2-0 lead, Gonda struggled with control. He hit a batter, balked and walked another.
The Korean runners got into scoring position on a groundout. Right fielder Sejin Cho thought he would drive them both home as he hit a hard chopper through the left side. Nakamura had a different idea as he dove and stopped the ball. Nakamura could not prevent a run but protected the lead.
Gonda got through the inning, striking out catcher Seongbin Son and getting pinch hitter Janghan Oh on a pop fly to shortstop.
Korea and Japan are now tied at 3-1. Japan will play their last game of the Super Round against No. 4 Mexico at 14.30 local time, while Korea will play Colombia at 10.00.
Japan added a second run in the fifth