Well, so many people have been raving about this game (1, 2, 3) I guess I should throw in my own two cents (although I wasn’t able to watch it at all because of the time difference). That was one of the biggest annoyances to me, by the way. Why did those games have to take place at the west coast? I know the answer (the time zone is closer to Asia), right, but that made it impossible for me to watch any of the 2nd round games there.
Anyway, I must have missed one heck of a game. If I take into account what those two teams have been showing the public since the start of the tournament I am sure every article written about the WBC final is 100% true. I don’t know that many Japanese players so I wasn’t familiar with their starter Iwakuma Hisashi, although I think I saw one game in which he pitched for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. He must have been lights out for 7.2 innings (4H, 2R, ER, 2BB, 6K, 1HR), but you must give credit to the guys playing defense behind him. There was one play in left field in which Uchikawa Seiichi grabbed the ball and hammered it towards 2nd base to gun down the runner there. Incredible stuff. The Korean side looked strong as well from what I was able to see at mlb.com‘s videos of the match.
To me it’s only fitting that a close game like this one had to go into extra innings and what better way to do so by including the talk of the town, Yu Darvish. He surrendered the tying run in the 9th for the blown save and it was up to Ichiro to bring the Japanese team back into the game an inning later and give Darvish another Chance to close it out (which he did this time).
Unfortunately I am not familiar with all those Korean players, but that liner their first baseman caught was incredible and that inning ending double play at one point was spectacular as well. I guess this is what I am looking for when watching a baseball game. Intensity and great sports. And that game surely had it.
What I found striking while reading the articles in the newspapers was how people were surprised at how those teams were playing. Honestly, if I call myself a sports writer and an international competition is coming up, I will do research about the teams who will participate in the tournament. Just to give you an example, every 4 years with the football World Cup there will be 32 teams taking part. months away from the first kick off fans will debate on which team will nominate who (rosters are usually announced roughly a month before the tournament starts). So people KNOW who will play. Not only writers and commentators, but the fans as well. And not only will they know what style of play the teams are best known for (e.g. Italy always has a very strong defense, Brazil is very skillful, the Germans always have a great fighting spirit, Japanese teams usually show a great effort, etc), but they will also know what the game looks like in the repective countries. So they know how fans behave in the stands. Now, I have never been to a baseball game in Japan, (or Asia), but I know that there are cheers for every player when they come to bat. How come that a lot of writers seem to be surprised at the level of noise created by the fans in the stadium? To me this sounds a bit like people not doing the homework, i.e. research. Or is it because some American sportswriters think that noone needs this competition? That Major League Baseball is the highest level of the sport? That may be true, but the English Premier League is considered to be by far, the best league in international football at the moment. And while that is true as well, the English national team hasn’t won anything in recent years.
Does this make any sense? Well, to Europeans their national teams are something very special. They rally behind them in every international competition and by doing so they create a startling atmosphere. If you ever watched a game with 30.000 England supporters going insane because their team just scored, then you can talk about passion for a game of sports. To me it sounds like some sportswriters in the USA simply look down on the WBC because the US team didn’t play well. And, honestly, I find that pretty sad. Because just as in football, handball, rugby or any other big sport, I would like international competitions to be something special. Because those are the games which create those extra special moments for me.
I have to wait four years now, but maybe in the meantime some sportswriters will recognize that international competition only adds to the game. And I hope they will do their research properly the next time around.