—Tetsuto Yamada takes his responsibility as the leadoff hitter seriously and that showed Tuesday.
Yamada slammed a pair of home runs and drove in three runs as Japan improved to 5-0 in the World Baseball Classic with an 8-5 win over Cuba at the Tokyo Dome.
With the win, Japan took a giant step toward moving on to the next round of play in Southern California next week.
Yamada homered off Cuban starter Bladimir Banos to start the bottom of the first, giving Japan a quick 1-0 lead.
“As the leadoff man, I felt a responsibility to get things started for us,” he said.
Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo decided to move Yamada back into the leadoff spot after batting him lower in the lineup against the Netherlands on Sunday.
“I watched Yamada’s batting practice before the game. He looked good, and I had a feeling he was going to hit tonight, so I put him back at the top of our order,” Kokubo said.
Cuba came back to go ahead at 2-1 in the second when second baseman Yurisbel Gracial homered off Japanese starter Tomoyuki Sugano.
Japan tied it in its half on a single by Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, but the game swung back and forth until the eighth. With the score tied 5-5, Japan’s Nobuhiro Matsuda stroked a routine grounder to shortstop. Cuban first baseman Willian Saavedra mishandled the throw from Alexander Ayala, and Matsuda was safe on the error. That opened the door for Japan.
Shogo Akiyama followed with a single to left, sending Matsuda to third. Pinch-hitter Seiichi Uchikawa then delivered a sacrifice fly to deep right, scoring Matsuda and putting Japan on top 6-5.
“I was hoping to get a hit with the runner at third,” Uchikawa said. “But I was able to drive in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly. I’ll take it.”
Cuba manager Carlos Marti said, “Japan is always one of the best teams in the World Baseball Classic. We made that one mistake with the error at first base. That was huge and cost us the game.”
Yamada then struck again, cracking a two-run shot to make it 8-5. Yamada also had a double and a walk and went 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
Japan reliever Ryo Akiyoshi, who worked a scoreless eighth inning, was the winning pitcher, while Cuban righthander Miguel Lahera took the loss. Closer Kazuhisa Makita earned a save in the game played before a crowd of 32,717.
Pool E play—unless a tie-breaker playoff becomes necessary on Thursday—concludes at Tokyo Dome on Wednesday with Cuba (0-2) facing the Netherlands (1-1) in a noon game, and Japan (2-0) playing Israel (1-1).
The two top teams then move on to the championship round in Los Angeles beginning March 20.