Japan beats Panama for LLWS international title
Saturday, August 25 2012 @ 09:55 PM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Japan returns Sunday for the tournament title game against either California or Tennessee. They were playing later Saturday afternoon for the U.S. crown.
The 6-foot Kiyomiya is imposing at the plate. The left-handed hitter has become so known for his power that fans sitting on the hill beyond the right-field fence started holding a "Kotaro Target'' sign near a bright red bull's-eye. Kiyomiya's first-inning homer sailed deep down the right-field line.
Kiyomiya saw the target walking down to the stadium from the dorms before the game, but manager Yoichi Kubo squashed any talk about taking aim with the long ball.
"I would have like to have hit, but I couldn't come close,'' Kiyomiya said through an interpreter after chuckling.
Edisson Gonzalez had an RBI single in the first while Daniel Castro added a run-scoring double in the second for Panama. Those runs got Panama within 4-2 going into the third.
But Japan didn't let up. Rintaro Hirano homered to center in the third before Kiyomiya went deep again in the fourth, this time the opposite way to left-center to make it 7-2. Starter Yuta Ishida allowed four hits and struck out six over four innings, while three relievers combined for two shutout innings to close out the game.
"Yes we can! Yes we can,'' Panama's fans chanted in Spanish through the sixth, down by eight. The game was such a big deal for Panama that Mario Jaramillo, the country's ambassador to the United States, watched the game at Lamade Stadium.
Panama had two runners in scoring position with two outs in the sixth, but reliever Hajime Motegi got a strikeout to escape the jam.
After exchanging handshakes at the plate with Panama, Japan's players smiled and posed for a picture at the mound with their new prize - the international championship banner.
Proud family members and friends stood shoulder to shoulder for snapshots from behind the plate.
An even bigger prize awaits on Sunday, though coach Junji Hidaka would rather his team not rely so much on the long ball. "We only scored on home runs today, I would advise the players not to try for more homers'' Sunday, Hidaka said. "We need to string our hits together.''
Panama committed four errors on the day, including two in the second that led to another Japan run. Still, Panama showed signs of keeping up with Japan's powerful offense after Castro's double made it 4-2 in the second.
Ishida shut them down from there and didn't allow a base runner over his final 2 1-3 innings. "It was a difficult game against a good pitching team,'' manager Luis Gonzalez said. "The team had confidence after scoring in the first inning but (two errors in the second) really stopped our momentum.''
Japan got the best of Panama again, similar to the teams' 4-1 meeting on Wednesday. A traditional World Series powerhouse, Japan has won the international bracket five times in the past seven years. But they've won the World Series title game just once during that span, in 2010.
Keep hitting home runs as they did on Saturday, and the boys will be taking home another championship banner to Tokyo.