Japan defeated the USA 9-4 in last night's WBC semifinal matchup. The championship will be played tonight between Japan and Korea. (Interestingly enough, one man who seemed to have this final matchup pegged all along: Fidel Castro. See his baseball columns in Cuban Escambray.)
The Japanese capitalized on a big fourth inning, in which they knocked starter Roy Oswalt out of the game in the process of scording five. Although only 1 for 5, Ichiro seems to have found his groove and energized the Japanese lineup. Young stud third baseman Kawasaki held up the other end of the lineup and made sure the American pitchers never got a breather. On the American side, only 2006 WBC snub Jimmy Rollins (4 for 4) seemed really to have much life at the plate.
Starting for Japan was our man Daisuke, who was, for better and worse, our man Daisuke. He pitched 4 and 2/3, where he reached his 100 pitch limit on a frustrating mixture of brilliance and tentative nibbling. As usual, he got himself in and out of jams and kept the American side to a modest 2 runs (including, again true to form, a first inning home run to Brian Roberts). All his pitches seem to be clicking (this early in the season, a very good sign). Unfortunately, what the Sox brass were quietly hoping would come to pass did not: Daisuke did not find his old WBC groove. The sbuttlebut in the Sox clubhouse was that being back in the patriotic garb might bring out the old aggressive Daisuke of the 2006 WBC---where he absolutely attacked each hitter and was a beast with two strikes---and send that version back to the Sox for 2009. Unfortunately, there was no such transformation, and we'll just have to be happy, it seems, with the man who went 18-3 and didn't pitch 170 innings over the season.
So the US heads home, again lamenting a disappointing performance. Though I won't be one to agree with them that it was necessarily a 'disappointment' in the sense of failing to live up to correct expectations. Fidel's on to something. It might not be good for the psyche of the national pasttime, but it speaks of some exciting possibilities for the future: Asia is playing some damn good baseball. Not to mention the Latin teams who populate the higher rungs of our own league. And the Dutch! So tonight's championship is highly recommended viewing. The Koreans and the Japanese already have their national animosity, and the most rabid fan bases at the WBC. It should be a doozy. And I hope that MLB is watching closely and thinking about the future of the game, not just its own little domestic antitrust violation.