Suzuki sends Japan to victory with 10th-inning grand slam


For the second straight night, a hit by Shohei Otani led to a six-run inning that helped Japan erase a large deficit. As was also the case the first time, Japan and the Netherlands took things into extra innings, where the tiebreaker rule used at the World Baseball Classic would help determine a winner.

Luckily for Samurai Japan, the similarities didn’t end there. It was all over after the 10th inning again, and the same team was celebrating at the end.

The Japanese used a six-run rally to tie the game in the seventh inning and won it after Seiya Suzuki hit a grand slam in the 10th that helped Japan defeat the Netherlands 12-10 in the final game of the 2016 Samurai Japan Challenge.

“I was behind in the count, so I just tried to give it my best swing,” Suzuki said. “I’m pleased with the result.”

Suzuki, who was playing for the top national team for the first time during this series, joked that his nerves almost got the best of him in the 10th.

“To be honest, I thought I was going throw up when the bases were loaded,” he joked.

Japan finished its four-game exhibition series with a win over Mexico and two extra-inning triumphs against the Dutch.

“I’m relieved that we wrapped up the series with a win,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said. “More than anything, I’m glad none of our players got hurt.”

The team will now look toward the 2017 WBC in March. Japan is scheduled to come together again for a training camp in mid-February, by which time the roster could be bolstered by a few MLB stars.

“We are going to work to become fully prepared for it,” Kokubo said.

There was a similar sentiment from the losing side.

“Yesterday in the fifth inning, they scored six and today in the seventh inning they scored six,” said Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens. “We played with a lot of young pitchers, to watch them pitch. They showed us what they can do. Some of them did really well, and some of them have a little way to go to compete at this level.

“Our batters did a great job. We scored 18 runs in the two games, put on a show with the bats. This was a good two-game series for us. We got a lot accomplished. We’ll just keep preparing for the Classic.”

On Saturday night, Japan scored six runs in the fifth inning, which started with a home run by Otani, to erase the Dutch’s four-run lead. The Netherlands rallied to force the game into extra innings, where Shota Ono won it for Japan with a sayonara single that made it 9-8.

On Sunday, the Netherlands batters lit up pitchers Kenta Ishida and Kazuto Taguchi early, and took an 8-2 lead into the seventh.

Otani began things with a high fly ball that got stuck between the absorption layers hanging from the ceiling (a ground rule double) at Tokyo Dome.

“I saw it go into the ceiling, so I thought it was probably going to be a double,” Otani said.

Takuya Nakashima drew a walk and Shogo Akiyama grounded out to third. Ryosuke Kikuchi got the fireworks started with an RBI double off the wall in left, and Tetsuto Yamada drove in two runs with a single that made the score 8-5

“I was just able to react well to the pitch,” Kikuchi said.

Akira Nakamura singled to right, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo cut further into the Dutch lead with an RBI double that made the score 8-6.

“I rode the momentum of the other hitters and just swung as hard as I could,” Tsutsugo said.

Japan pulled even when Suzuki doubled in a pair of runs.

The teams entered the 10th with the score tied 8-8. The WBC tiebreak rules were effect, so each team began the 10th with runners (the last two batters of the previous frame) on first and second.

Nakamura attempted to move the runners over with a sacrifice to start the inning, but the Netherlands managed to force out Kikuchi at third instead. The runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Tsutsugo drew a walk that loaded the bases.

Suzuki then put Japan on top with his grand slam.

Kodai Senga gave up a run on a single by Dashenko Ricardo in the top of the 10th that made the score 12-9. He threw a wild pitch with men on second and third that allowed another run to score before nailing down the save.

Yakult pitcher Ryo Akiyoshi threw two innings of scoreless relief for the win. The Netherlands’ Jim Ploeger was charged with the loss.

Yurendell De Caster had a big game for the Dutch, going 2-for-4 with four RBIs. Sharlon Schoop hit a three-run home run, and Ricardo had a pair of RBI singles.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report

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