Reynosa, Mexico, and Tokyo, Japan battle for international LLB championship
Tsubasa Tomii wasn’t that happy with his three-inning start earlier this week when he struck out five and allowed one hit in a shutout win over Canada.
He said he could do better.
“Strike everyone out,” said Tomii through an interpreter.
The Tokyo Kitasuna Little Leaguers from Japan may not reach perfection this weekend, but they’d certainly take two more victories and the league’s fourth title here since 2001.
Kitasuna meets Reynosa, Mexico, at 12:30 today on ABC in the International title game, with the winner facing the United States champion Sunday afternoon for the world title.
Reynosa stands in the way first, having won four consecutive elimination-round games after dropping the tournament opener last Thursday. That’s one win shy of the all-time LLWS record for consecutive elimination-round victories, set by tournament runner-up Waipahu, Hawaii, in 2010.
Mexico manager Jose Manuel Espinoza Urrea expected to pitch Jorge Garcia, who is 1-1 here, having thrown four innings each vs. Maracaibo, Venezuela to begin and four more in eliminating Seoul, South Korea on Monday. He has a 2.25 ERA and 11 strikeouts with five walks.
Reliever Samuel Juarez is eligible again after Friday’s rest day. He struck out five and allowed two hits in two shutout innings to earn a save against White Rock, B.C., on Thursday.
Andre Garza has been the most consistent offensive weapon, hitting three of the team’s seven home runs. One of those reportedly dented a car some 320 feet beyond the right-field fence in a 13-0 win over Emilia, Italy, a game that Urrea said boosted the team’s confidence for this run.
Garcia, Juarez, Isaac Miranda, and Jorge Lambarria have also homered.
Also important: Mexico has just one error in its five games here, making them less likely to throw a game away defensively in one of the three biggest baseball games played this summer involving the 12-year old division.
“The mental part is important,” said Urrea. “Like the Korea game, the team making less errors is going to win. We keep talking with the guys to stay focused all the game. That gives us the best chance to win.”
That has traditionally been a hallmark of Japanese teams here, from the 2001 and 2012 Kitasuna champion teams, as well as the 2015 one that rallied from 11 down to beat Red Land, 18-11, in the championship game.
This Kitasuna edition hasn’t been tested like that yet here, beating Sydney, Australia, 8-0, South Korea, 4-1, and then Canada to play today.
Tomii can pitch today, though the entire staff is eligible. Riku Goto’s 7 1/3 innings pitched lead the staff, and he boasts a 0.81 ERA. He also wears No. 18, traditionally a number for a top Japanese pitcher, though Hidaka said earlier in the week Tomii was his ace.
Tomii has not allowed a run. In fact, neither have Keitaro Miyahara, Ryuto Konno, or Yuya Nakajima in their appearances. And if there’s one thing Japan does have, it’s pitching to get through a big weekend.
Kitasuna advanced out of a 16-team, two-day weekend event in July that featured consecutive days with doubleheaders.
The contact-hitting line drive offense hasn’t been bad, either. Ryota Ono leads with a .667 average. Nakajima and Natsuki Yajima have the two home runs and nine of the team’s 17 RBIs.
Japan has been one of the better nations to export players to the United States, from Ichiro Suzuki to Masahiro Tanaka, but Urrea reminded everyone Mexico has its share, too.
“You see guys here that can play in the states, not only in Mexico, but eventually in the big leagues, too,” said Urrea. “They’re good and strong. They can get there.”