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Japan breaks American dynasty with disciplined approach

Posted by Joshua Kummins on August 29, 2010

by Teddy Cahill, Little League International

More than 20,000 people came out to watch the final day of the Series, watching Japan win the title. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The Little League Baseball World Series banner has probably never been walked more stately around Howard J. Lamade Stadium. But it’s also hard to imagine a more disciplined team of 12-year olds than the 2010 Japanese champions.

The team that never walks on the practice field, lines up its extra equipment impeccably along the fence and hardly ever makes a mistake in the field showed it was the best in the world. Japan defeated Waipahu, Hawaii, 4-1 in front of 29,812 fans on Sunday afternoon.

It was just the way Manager Shingo Ariyasu wanted it. He finally got the World Series championship that had eluded him in 2008, when Japan had lost to Mexico in the International finals.

This year, with a team he regarded as better, he could bring the banner home.

“No slight to the 2008 kids, but, I’ve said it before: these 2010 kids are very bright,” Ariyasu said.

Japan won the title its way, becoming the first International champions since 2004 and the first from Japan since 2003. They did it with pitching and defense, with aggressiveness and timely hitting, with confidence and grace.

More than anything, however, Japan won Sunday with discipline. It made Hawaii pay for its walks and wild pitches, and avoided being hurt by its own two errors.

“I told them last night you cannot give [Japan] a free ride,” Hawaii manager Brian Yoshii said. “They’re going to cause havoc on the bases. You have to make them earn the bases.”

Starting pitcher Cody Maltezo issued three walks in 5 2/3 innings, a few too many for Yoshii’s taste. He also threw five wild pitches, including one that allowed Masaya Ishii to score the game’s first run in the second inning.

Maltezo was never supposed to be pitching in such a meaningful game for Hawaii, however. Yoshii said the left-hander was probably his No. 6 pitcher, forced into action on the biggest stage because of Hawaii’s difficult run through the losers’ bracket. The American champions had to play five days in a row.

“He pitched a great game,” Yoshii said. “I believe in all these kids. I know when their number is called they won’t give up on their teammates.”

Japan also received a boost from an unlikely source Sunday. Konan Tomori, who is nicknamed Mary by his teammates because of his lack of mental fortitude, drove in Japan’s second run with a fourth-inning single. He later added a two-run home run in the sixth inning to give Japan all the insurance runs it needed.

Tomori didn’t even start the game, coming in as a pinch hitter in the fourth. Ariyasu said Tomori had been taking good swings in the batting cage, but it will take a little more time before he sheds the nickname.

“One more year,” Ariyasu said with a laugh.

Tomori finished the game 2-for-2 with three RBI. But he wasn’t completely happy with his game.

“There were good and bad parts,” he said. “But the big picture is the team won, so I am happy.”

Some observers might have been hard pressed to find signs of joy from Japan after the final out settled into right fielder Teruma Nagata’s glove. Perhaps it was because many of the players couldn’t grasp what the moment meant, something they were still struggling with during the postgame press conference.

“I was so happy, I wasn’t thinking about anything,” said Ichiro Ogasawara, who earned his third save of the tournament with three scoreless innings.

Hawaii, meanwhile, was dejected. Yoshii said he was very proud of his team and was sure they would bounce back quickly. All that is left for the American champions is a long plane ride back to Hawaii, which Yoshii is ready for.

“I’m ready to go back home,” he said. “But I love it here. There’s no losers that come here.”

Japan faces an even longer flight home, but one that is sure to be joyous.  Before coming to Williamsport, Japanese champions played a friendly rival team also from Tokyo. After the game, they jokingly told Edogawa Minami All-Stars not to come home without the championship.

The Japanese champions never collapsed under the weight of a nation hungry for a championship, which came as no surprise to their manager.

“They don’t give up even when they’re down,” Ariyasu said. “They’re very tough.”


One Response to “Japan breaks American dynasty with disciplined approach”

  1. […] Japan breaks American dynasty with disciplined approach « KCT BASEBALL […]

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