Javier Baez Leaves Team Japan Lost In Translation
Javier Baez homered in consecutive at bats, crushing a solo home run in the 7th and a walk-off two-run bomb in the 9th, helping to rally the Cubs to a 7-5 victory over Team Japan this afternoon at Dwight Patterson Field at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, AZ.
Team Japan is in Phoenix preparing for the World Baseball Classic Championship Round that will be played in San Francisco next week.
The Cubs scored first, plating three runs in the bottom of the 1st inning against Team Japan lefty junkballer Tetsuya Utsumi.
Javier Baez worked a one-out walk on a 3-2 pitch, and advanced to third base on a Welington Castillo ground-rule (book rule) double that bounced off the right-centerfield warning track and over the fence. Alfonso Soriano lofted a sacrifice fly to right-center to score Baez, and Dave Sappelt drove-in Castillo with a rocket two-out double down the line and into the LF corner. Josh Vitters then ripped an RBI line-drive single to center to score Sappelt.
But Team Japan came back against Cub starter LHP Travis Wood, scoring two runs in the top of the 2nd inning and three more in the 3rd.
Sho Nakata hammered a two-run HR over the LF fence with one out in the 2nd, and then after Kazuo Matsui reached base on a Javier Baez E-6 throwing error to open the 3rd, Shinnosuke Abe clubbed an RBI double into the left-center alley (Abe had two rope-doubles in the game), and Hayato Sakamoto followed with a monster two-run homer that hugged the LF foul line and landed in the parking lot.
Wood threw 4.2 IP (78 pitches - 53 strikes, 4/5 GO/FO), allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits (four singles, a double, and two HR), but he did throw strikes and did not issue any walks, and he struck out four (three swinging). He also picked a runner of 1st base.
Cory Wade relieved Wood and got four outs (the last out in the 5th and all three outs in 6th), doing it on just eight pitches (seven strikes). Wade has been ultra-efficient in his Cactus League outings, making it look ridiculously easy at times (F-8, K, 1B, 6-4-3 DP today).
Rafael Dolis followed Wade and threw a nine-pitch 1-2-3 7th (F-8, 6-3, 3-U), and Casey Coleman worked a scoreless 8th (allowing a one-out double).
While the Cub bullpen was throwing goose-eggs at Team Japan, the Cubs offense began to claw its way back from a 5-3 deficit.
Javier Baez hit his first home run (a solo moonshot bomb over the LF scoreboard and into the parking lot) off LHP Kenji Otanari with one out in the 7th. Then Dave Sappelt led off the bottom of the 8th with an infield single (his third hit of the game), and after Rubi Silva laid down a sacrifice bunt and Jorge Soler popped out, Dan Vogelbach lined an opposite-field two-out RBI single to left to score Sappelt from 2nd base with the tying run (terrible throw by the Team Japan LF, which allowed Vogelbach to take 2nd base). Alberto Gonzalez followed the Vogelbach RBI hit with an opposite-field line-drive single to right, but Vogelbach was thrown out 9-2 trying to score the go-ahead run from 2nd.
RHP Jensen Lewis entered the game for the Cubs in the top of the 9th, and Team Japan parlayed a couple of singles to put runners at 1st & 3rd with only one out. But Jensen induced two ground outs (the first one a FC where the potential go-ahead run was thrown out at the plate by third-baseman Christian Villanueva) to get out of the inning unscathed, although he did labor a bit (18 pitches - only 10 strikes).
With the score tied 5-5 and one out in the bottom of the 9th, Christian Villanueva smacked a double into the left-center gap off RHP Takeru Imamura, and that set-up Javier Baez to be the hero, as the youngster displayed his incredible bat speed by drilling a two-run line-drive walk-off HR over the left-centerfield fence to give the Cubs the hard-fought victory. (You know it's an unusually hard-hit line-drive HR when the hitter shakes hands with his 1st base coach AND the opposing team's third-baseman shakes the hitter's hand while he's circling the bases).
New Cubs RHRP Kyuji Fujikawa delivered the Cubs lineup to home plate prior to the game, and had a good time interacting with some of the Japanese players and coaches. There were lots & lots of photos taken of the scene (including Fujikawa posing with the Team Japan manager and the umpires) by the dozens of Japanese photographers at the game.
A musician dressed in traditional Japanese warrior garb serenaded the crowd on the third-base side of the field (where Team Japan's bench and most of the Japanese fans were located), beating a Tzusami drum and playing a Hayashi flute throughout the game (Team Japan's version of Ronnie Woo Woo). I think my headache is almost gone.