Team Australia drop heartbreaker to Japan
They held their nerve right to the end, but Team Australia were unable to hold off a strong Japanese side with a 3-2 loss in Game One of their World Baseball Classic warm-up series in Japan.
A two run first inning and a strong start from Chris Oxspring got the Australians on the front foot in front of a very vocal Osaka crowd. Mitch Dening got things started off with a walk and Luke Hughes followed up with a single to centre. Stefan Welch walked to load the bases and Brad Harman was hit by a pitch to bring in the first Australian run. Mike Walker scored Dening on a grounder as Team Australia headed into the bottom of the inning with a handy two run buffer.
Chris Oxspring showed why he was Australia's number one starter for the Classic, striking out three Japanese batters through his two innings. Despite holding the lead, manager Jon Deeble stuck with his original plan to workout as much of his bullpen as possible, with Dushan Ruzic, Adam Bright, Tim Kennelly and Andrew Russell coming in to throw scoreless innings.
Despite failing to score for the remainder of the game, Team Australia wasn’t without their opportunities. Chris Snelling and Brad Harman hit in the second inning to put pressure on the Japanese in the second, and Mitch Dening did everything he could to bring Snelling home with a fly ball to right field. A gun throw from right fielder Yoshio Itoi nailed Snelling at the plate to keep Australia’s lead at two.
Brad Harman singled and Mitch Dening walked in the seventh to start another Team Australia threat, however strikeouts to Hughes and Stefan Welch kept the score at 2-0 into the stretch.
Andrew Russell came in for the seventh and recorded two outs but left with two runners on as Jon Deeble went to Steve Kent against the threat of the MVP of the Nippon Professional Baseball League, Sinnosuke Abe. Kent pitched around Abe to bring the force out into play and held his nerve, inducing a ground ball to end the inning.
Into the eighth, the Team Australia pitching staff had only given up a single hit to the Japanese. This would change with Kent allowing back to back hits to set the table for pinch hitter Ryoji Aikawa, who hit a fastball down the middle for a home run to right field, sending the Osaka Dome into delirium.
Despite the loss, Jon Deeble saw plenty of positives to take from the strong Team Australia performance. "I’m very proud of our guys, we only made one bad pitch and there is nothing to change about our play or game plan.”
In front of 36,000 screaming fans, the Australian side held their own in a clash Deeble is aiming to repeat if Australia can get through Pool B of the World Baseball Classic. “Japan don't scare us, we will be coming back for the second round if we keep playing the way we did tonight".
Luke Hughes’, who went 2-4 for the night with a single in the first and a double in the fifth, echoed Deeble's statements after a good night at the plate. "Tonight we showed that we have what it takes to beat Japan, the two-time reigning WBC champs. We can mix it with the best and it's time for us to step up and show the world what we've got".
Team Australia will have one more chance to beat the Japanese tomorrow night before heading back to Taiwan for the World Baseball Classic, which kicks off next weekend. Ryan Rowland-Smith will be on the mound for the game starting at 7:15pm in Japan. (9:15pm EDST).
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