It is not rare to hear a baseball game was “a thriller”, but the one that closed the second day of the super round in the U-18 Baseball World Cup turned out to be the epitome of the thriller. Korea defeated Japan, 5-4, reversing a two-run lead in the bottom of the tenth. The winning run, to add more thrill, went through an on-field replay review.
As home plate umpire Stephen Gomes was communicating with the replay review umpire, the atmosphere at Dream Ball Park was surreal, with fans turning their back to the field and staring at monitors in the press box. When the decision came, fans exploded and players were quick in recognising their commitment.
The tenth inning thriller began with runners at first and second, as per the international tie-break rule. Japan bunted them to second and third and Korea gave the call to Heo Yundong, so far a starting pitcher. Ryusei Takeoka tried to squeeze in a run, but his bunt went foul. He then swang at a 3-1 pitch and drove it beyond the head of right fielder Lee Jeongwoo for a two-RBI double. He then became the second out at third.
Japan gave the ball to Yuki Hayashi, the fifth pitcher of the night. Korea tried to bunt the runners to second and third, but Park Juhong sent a comebacker to the mound. Hayashi bubbled the ball, then rushed a throw to first and sent it off the bag. Korea cut the gap to one run and the inning went on with runners at second and third.
Japan made another pitching move after Hayashi walked the bases loaded. The Samurai gave the ball to Yousuke Ikeda. The reliever quickly got the first out on strikes, thanks to a sweeping breaking ball, then he walked in the tying run. Park Min worked the count to one ball and two strikes, then drove the fourth offering by Ikeda to deep centre field. Park Juhong scored from third.
The thriller was not limited to the tenth inning. Korea tied the game thriving on a throwing error in the bottom of the eighth.
The hosts had lost two runners at home plate, both on-base hits by second baseman Kim Jichan.
Kim singled off Junya Nishi in the bottom of the fifth and Hiroya Miyagy nailed down the runner at home plate. He then singled off Miyagi in the bottom of the ninth and it was Nishi who got the out on a perfect throw home.
The night had started as the much-awaited debut for the superstar in the making Roki Sasaki. The righthander’s outing lasted just one inning, 19 pitches, only seven for a strike.