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The United States of America moves to its first ever World Baseball Classic final, by virtue of taking down two-time champion Japan in the semifinals on Tuesday night, 2-1. The final will be on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT in Dodger Stadium vs. Puerto Rico, which is undefeated to this point.
Here are nine things to know from the USA victory:
1. USA fans again got a taste of the Japanese atmosphere
Japan won the event in both 2006 and 2009 and then advanced to AT&T Park in the 2013 semifinals. The Japanese fans travel well and get plenty of Japanese Americans to the games as well. They do things a bit differently than the USA fans or even the loud and extremely enthusiastic fans from Latin American countries.
They have bands. Said bands play certain songs during every Japanese at-bat, with each hitter being assigned a song at times.
Here’s a sample from the official WBC Twitter account:
I also heard the “Back to the Future” theme song a few times, which is all kinds of awesome.
This is definitely different than what many of us are used to. I can see it being a very polarizing topic where some think it’s fun and others absolutely despise it.
2. It rained a lot
For at least the first five innings, it was raining in Dodger Stadium, which is a rarity. Sometimes it was pretty steady but it didn’t really let up until the sixth inning. It picked up on occasion the rest of the way as well. The grounds crew had to become involved a few times, notably around home plate and on the mound, obviously.
So this means the conditions were a bit tougher than usual, notably on hard groundballs where the ball would be picking up wetness on its way to the fielder. Ian Kinsler and Brandon Crawford uncharacteristically had trouble on one ball each.
Of course, this happens sometimes in Major League Baseball, and the players are more equipped for it.
In the Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan’s major league), most stadiums are domes with turf. For the most part, the outstanding Japan defense handled itself well.
Oh yeah, in related matters ...
3. USA’s first run scored thanks to an error
Bear in mind, this is a man who has four Golden Gloves (NPB’s version of the Gold Glove, obviously) in four seasons and is considered a defensive wizard. He committed only four errors in 836 chances last season (.995). The weather most certainly had a hand in this one.
And USA would make Japan pay. After a Nolan Arenado strikeout and Eric Hosmer walk, Andrew McCutchen would deliver the two-out, go-ahead single
4. Kikuchi redeemed himself
With one out in the bottom of the sixth inning and Japan trailing 1-0, Kikuchi clubbed a home run off USA reliever Nate Jones to right field. It was a wall-scraper and initially it looked like McCutchen - how about that coincidence? - robbed him. Instead, Cutch just missed the ball and the game was tied.
5. The starting pitching was exceptional
Sure, maybe the rain helped a little, but the pitchers had to deal with wet baseballs as well.
Tanner Roark went for USA and threw four scoreless innings. He allowed only two hits and a walk. There was a timely double play and a hard ball hit or two, but it was mostly soft contact or routine fly balls. He pitched to contact, too, only striking out one.
He was outshined, in my opinion, by Japan starter Tomoyuki Sugano. In six innings of work, he gave up just one run on three hits, but that was an unearned run as mentioned above. He struck out six while walking just one, and that was with two outs and a base to work with. The USA hitters were stuck attempting to check swings often due to being caught so off-guard by his arsenal, too.
6. Power, weather and the contact play worked for USA in the eighth
Brandon Crawford picked up a one-out single that was hit awfully hard to right in the eighth. Then Ian Kinsler hit a ball that looked like it was going to end up over the left-center fence. Crawford didn’t score due to what looked like caution with the wet/muddy infield. So it was second and third with one out for Adam Jones, who had been clutch throughout the WBC.
On the hill for Japan was its biggest strikeout pitcher in Kodai Senga, who struck out the first four USA hitters he faced and was leading the entire WBC in strikeouts to this point. Jones isn’t exactly a contact hitter, either, but he came through and put the ball in play.
It was a soft grounder to third base, but Crawford was coming home on the contact play. He probably would’ve been out, but the weather came into play again, as Japan third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda couldn’t initially handle the ball and had to call an audible by getting the easy out at first.
And USA would head to the bottom of the eighth with a 2-1 lead.
7. Melancon and Neshek got huge outs in the eighth
Mark Melancon gave up a single and then a sac bunt, giving Japan the tying run on second base with one out and Kikuchi coming to the plate. Melancon isn’t a strikeout artist compared to other stud closers, but he got the huge strikeout.
Of course, he needed to be bailed out after walking Nori Aoki on four pitches to get to Japan’s cleanup hitter, Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, who had 44 homers last year in NPB. He also has three so far in WBC play. Neshek worked him to a two-strike count and got a somewhat deep fly to nestle in McCutchen’s glove in right field.