4 months ago: Japan wins WBSC Premier12, Mexico earns historic Olympic baseball ticket

4 months ago: Japan wins WBSC Premier12, Mexico earns historic Olympic baseball ticket
The final between rivals Japan and Korea was played in front of an electric crowd of 44,960 at the Tokyo Dome and exploded on social media.

The BOXSCORE of the Final

On this day, four months ago, Japan claimed the II WBSC Premier12 title at the iconic Tokyo Dome. Samurai Japan beat defending champions Korea, 5-3, in the final, which drew a crowd of 44,960 to the stadium and generated millions of impressions across social media platforms.

Moments before the final, Mexico made history, defeating USA in the bronze medal game to claim their first-ever ticket to the Olympics in the sport of baseball.

A huge crowd was well anticipated. There had actually been some discussion about how huge and if that was going to prevent fans from missing the start of the game. No chance. There was not a pitch to be missed. The Premier12 final was going to be a baseball celebration unless you were rooting for one of the two sides. By the time the home plate umpire called "Play ball", the Tokyo Dome was packed.

A veteran scribe, patrolling the ground level of the venue was explaining to almost everybody that he didn't see Shun Yamaguchi, despite his 15 wins with the Yomiuri Giants during the 2019 NPB regular season, as the right choice to start for Samurai Japan.

Korea proved him right. Kim Ha-seon, the shortstop hitting second, homered off Yamaguchi with leadoff hitter Lee Jung-ho on board, to give the defending champions an early lead. Kim Hyun-soo made it 3-0 with a solo home run.

It was going to be it for Yamaguchi in the game and as an Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) player. In January he was introduced as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB).

The Samurai Japan bullpen took care of the rest of the game. Rei Takahashi and Kazuto Taguchi pitched two innings each and allowed three hits. Kota Nakagawa, Hiroshi Kaino, Yoshinubo Yamamoto and Yasuaki Yamasaki each pitched one inning and didn't allow Korea a runner, striking out six.

Yang Hyeonjong, a former Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) MVP, took the mound for Korea. The bottom of the second was the game-changer. Japan's catcher Tsubasa Aizawa walked. Second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi singled and Tetsuto Yamada added the three-run homer that gave Japan a lead they would not surrender.

What made the II WBSC Premier12 final different from any top-tier international baseball event was the unmatchable enthusiasm of the Tokyo Dome right-field bleachers. The way these fans support Samurai Japan has nothing to do with cheer-leading. These fans dive deep into their faith and display how they feel from the first pitch to the last out of the night.

The final of the II WBSC Premier12 on 17 November, 2019 gave Japan's Atsunori Inaba his first title as Samurai Japan manager.

At the Tokyo 2020 Games, Inaba will cross paths again with Kim Kyungmoon, who led Korea to beat Cuba in the final and win an Olympic gold medal in 2008 in Beijing. Inaba was then an outfielder for the Samurai Japan team that lost the bronze medal game against the USA.

Four months ago we could witness Atsushi Saito dismiss for a moment his NPB Commissioner's suit and speak like the avid baseball fan that he is.

"We enjoyed very exciting games during the Premier12," commented Saito San minutes after the final. "All the participants did an excellent job and the fans enjoyed it very much. Global baseball is a lot of fun. The level of the teams was very high. Japan enjoyed the tournament the most, of course. I want to congratulate every team. They were able to create a lot of excitement."

While WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari emphasised how the unique nature of the event, where teams qualify based on their world ranking as opposed to other WBSC events, which is based on qualification tournaments, has made it such as success. "The format based on our ranking works. The position in the ranking helps define the real strength of a baseball programme, since also youth events guarantee points. The Premier12 definitely helps the internationalization and the globalization of baseball, this is a fact". 

The next WBSC Premier12 will be in 2023 and the world can't wait for more global baseball.

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