What a great victory for Japan. And what an amazing outing by Iwakuma -- he stuck to his game plan and pitched about as well as any one in his position could pitch.
Some interesting Iwakuma stats:
- Didn't give up a lead-off runner in any of the 6 innings he tossed. He did, however, give up all 5 of the hits he allowed after getting two outs.
- Held Cepeda in 0 hits in 3 trips to the plate.
- Got Cuba to ground out 14 times, out of a possible 18 outs.
- Was involved in 5 different fielding plays.
- The most pitches he threw to one batter was against Anderson in the 4th. Result: swinging strike out.
- Needed only 69 pitches to get through 6 frames, although he was starting to leave some pitches over the plate towards the end.
- Break-down of pitches: 16 fastballs, 20 sliders, 15 forkballs, 11 shutos, and 7 curveball (this obviously isn't off the MLB site).
- 4 of the 5 hits came on breaking pitches (slider, forkball, shuto, curve). 3 of the 5 hits also came on the second pitch.
Iwakuma's pitches vs. Cuba
- Ichiro may have turned a corner. You could really tell after his first hit, but his second hit of the game was a solid liner over the centerfielder's head. Hits like that usually are a good indication that a batter is coming around.
- Inaba also appears to be coming out of a mini-slump; he hit a solid double to right in the fourth.
- Aoki had a VERY big night going 4-for-5 with a run scored and 2 RBI.
- Iwamura continued to get on base for Japan, going 1-for-2 with 2 walks and 2 runs scored.
- While Nakajima didn't have a hit (0-for-2 with a walk), he did drive in a run with a sac fly in the seventh.
- The rest of the lineup really didn't do that well, but they all had solid ABs. For example:
- Fukudome's 7-pitch at bat in the 3rd.
- Nakajima's 9-pitch at bat in the 5th.
- Ogasawara's 8-pitch at bat in the 6th.
- Johjima's 9-pitch at bat in the 6th.
Something else to consider: Japan tossed 18 scoreless frames against a very powerful Cuban line-up that scored 36 runs in the 4 other games they played. Japanese pitching also scattered 13 hits, including 2 doubles and a triple, struck out 18, and walked only 1 over those 18 frames.
At some point, you have to start chalking up some of these losses to Korea as bad luck. This isn't to take anything away from Korea, because I think they're a tough team, but I just don't see how Korea can continue beating Japan at this point, not after another solid victory against Cuba.
Another thing to consider: Japan has looked infinitely more at ease against Cuba and China. And while they did look fairly relaxed during their first game against Korea, the last two games against Korea have been a whole other story: every player looks like they're pressing.
And that's why it'll be important for Japan to get things going early. That doesn't necessarily mean scoring a run in the first inning, but they definitely need to keep Korea off base (no free passes) and maintain positive forward moving momentum (being agressive on the base paths, making good defensive plays, making the pitchers work).
What needs to happen tomorrow against Korea
Japan just needs to relax and remember that they beat Cuba twice on shut-outs. And hopefully Ichiro's last two ABs really are an indication of him coming out of his awful slump.
My only concern at this point is whom the team will pitch tomorrow against Korea. Matsuzaka, Darvish, and Iwakuma are all unavailable. And since Sugiuchi tossed 32 pitches tonight, he won't be available tomorrow either.
Does that open the door for Wakui to start? Personally, I think it might be interesting to go with Tanaka, but I don't think that'll ever happen.
Japan needs to stay relaxed and not get too caught up in the rivalry. If they can do that, I think they could eek out a win against Korea.