Tokyo’s perfect in shutout
Take a picture, it’ll last longer.
The Tokyo Kitasuna Little Leaguers don’t have any cameras on the field, but that doesn’t stop them from pretending to pose for selfies after hitting home runs at the Little League World Series.
And while Little League bans selfie sticks on the premises, the big sticks swung Wednesday at Lamade Stadium caused enough trouble as Natsuki Yajima and Yuya Nakajima hit home runs in a 10-0, five-inning victory over White Rock’s South Surrey LL of British Columbia in the international winners’ bracket final.
Nakajima didn’t expect to hit a home run here, so he was surprised when it happened for a 9-0 lead, bringing more teammates out of the dugout for a group pose in front of a pretend cell phone.
Yajima said he was simply trying to protect the plate on a two-strike count when his shot into the batter’s eye bushes in center field made it 3-0 in the third.
“I didn’t know what I was really planning to do,” said Yajima through an interpreter. “It just went over the fence, so I’m happy.”
Japanese manager Junnji Hidaka said the selfie poses after home runs were a team tradition, though no one here saw them before Wednesday because the team didn’t hit any home runs in its first two Little League World Series victories. He said Keita Takarata, the team’s interpreter from 2015 and a player for the league in 2004, began encouraging players to pose like that earlier and it simply caught on.
Yajima’s home run highlighted a four-run third inning. Nakajima’s produced the three-run fifth. Ryusei Fujiwara doubled home Ryuto Inoue in the fifth to invoke the mercy rule.
Starting pitcher Tsubasa Tomii didn’t need all that support, allowing one hit and two walks with five strikeouts in three shutout innings. Ryuto Konno and Nakajima provided two more innnings of clean relief.
All three are eligible Saturday for the international final, though Hidaka mentioned Tomii is probably his ace. Japan will play today’s winner of Reynosa, Mexico and White Rock, British Columbia, which dropped into the losers’ bracket half.
Canadian manager Ryan Hefflick said the trio of Japanese pitchers didn’t throw harder than anything they’d seen in holding his team to just a Ty Fluet single in the second inning, but the control on the offspeed pitches was new.
“We only talked a few minutes, and obviously they’re disappointed, but we can play better than that,” said Hefflick. “No doubt they were tight, we hadn’t seen that all season long and it was our first time at Lamade Stadium. But that being said, Japan played an excellent game.”
Japan showed Canada how good it could be on the game’s first two at-bats, as shortstop Keitaro Miyahara and second baseman Fujiwara took grounders deep into the hole and threw out Robert Orr and Chase Marshall, respectively, by a couple steps. Fujiwara was actually on his knees behind second base when making the throw.
“It’s not really a difficult strategy,” said Hidaka through an interpreter. “Just make the easy play and protect your pitcher.”
There’s also not much difficult to their lucky boy chant, which Tomii said they’ll keep doing as long as they win where everyone gathers around one player, designated the lucky boy.
And who gets chosen as the lucky boy?
“You’re the player. You’re just the lucky boy. You just are,” said Hidaka.
With more hitting and pitching and defense like they showed Wednesday, Kitasuna doesn’t need much luck.