Japan beat Korea, 3-2, to remain undefeated in the U-23 Baseball World Cup. Samurai relied on a strong effort by slugger Yasuhito Uchida, who produced all the runs Japan scored. The real MVP of the game was right fielder Ukyo Shuto with his three assist that completer as many out, two at the home plate.
“If I feel like a Little Ichiro? Yes, I do feel that way” said Ukyo Shuto through an interpreter after the game “I am very confident in my defensive skills. Assists for the out have been the speciality of my baseball career.”
Japan wasted no time in scoring the go ahead run. With one out, Taiga Matsuo singled off Korea starter Choi Sung Young, who has appeared in 28 games for the NC Dinos of Korea’s top professional League (KBO). With two outs, Matsuo stole second and scored on a base hit by Uchida.
Korea’s first baseman Kim Min Yeok led off the second with a line drive to right field. Shuto made the first showcase of his brilliant throwing arm as he nailed him down at second.
In the top of the third, a potential rally cooled down as Kim Chan Hyung was picked off at first by Japan starter Soichiro Yamazaki. Umpire Allan Reyes (Nicaragua) stood after replay review.
Korea couldn’t use also a one out double by Kim Min Hyeok in the top of the fourth. Yamazaki came away with a strike out and a ground out.
In the top of the fifth, Korea thought they had finally tied it. With runners at the corners and two outs, Ye Jinwon singled to right. Another impeccable throw by Shuto and a great play at home plate by catcher Kengo Oriuchi got Kim Chan Hyung for the third out of the frame.
In the bottom of the sixth Japan extended the lead. With a runner on board, Samurai captain Uchida got to an inside cutter by reliever Lee Won Joon and drove it into the left field bleachers.
Yasahito Uchida, who has homered 12 times in 54 games for the Rakuten Golden Eagles during the 2018 NPB season, is definitely dominating U-23 Baseball World Cup pitching: “It’s never easy” he commented after the game through an interpreter.
Uchida added: “I really feel confident about our chances to win. I feel we have the skills to keep it going”.
Japan’s bullpen was not as brilliant as in group play. Yu Suzuki walked a batter and left after getting only two outs. Lefty Atsuya Horie walked two and hit Han Dong Hui, forcing in the first run by Korea. Ryota Nagai hit Kim Min Yeok to make it 3-2. All this happened in the top of the seventh and Japan escaped the threat thanks to a brilliant play by shortstop Taiga Matsuo, who got to a sharp grounder by Moon Sung Ju up the middle and ended the frame with a flip to second for the force out.
Nagai put himself into trouble again in the top of the eighth as he hit Jung Gyeong Won and walked pinch hitter Choe Tae Seong. Japan gave the call to Kakeru Narita, who got the second out on strikes but then allowed a hit to right field to Ye Jinwon. Ukyo Shuto came up with one more big throw to get Jung Gyeong Won at home plate for the third out.