Japan beats Mexico to earn spot in LLWS championship game
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) -- Defense. Power. Finesse. As usual, Japan has it all.
Takuma Gomi led off the top of the sixth inning with a tiebreaking home run, and Tokyo, Japan, beat Tijuana, Mexico, 3-2 on Saturday to win the international title at the Little League World Series.
Japan will play either Chula Vista, Calif., or Westport, Conn., in the World Series championship on Sunday. The U.S. title game was played later Saturday.
Japan and Mexico faced off for the 15th time in World Series history, and Japan improved to 10-5 against its rival when Gomi homered over the wall in right-center field.
Traditional power Japan is in contention again to make that victory lap around Lamade Stadium. A year ago an all-star team from Tokyo won Japan's eighth Little League title and second in three seasons. Japan will make its sixth appearance in eight years in the World Series finals.
Mexico was after a payback of sorts, having dropped a 5-2 decision to Japan on Wednesday. The Tokyo team confounded Tijuana manager Francisco Fimbres, powering to the victory behind home runs by starting pitcher Kazuki Ishida and Seiya Nishino.
"We thought Japan would play small ball, and they changed strategy,'' Fimbres said. They were free-swinging it. I think it's important to have a lot of patience. Our pitchers may have to be a lot smarter. Two mistakes cost us two home runs.''
Another huge mistake on Saturday cost Mexico even more as Japan's defense stifled one last rally.
Mexico trailed 2-0 but tied it in the third against Japan reliever Kensuke Tsuchida. Martin Gonzalez led off with a single, and Ramon Mendoza hit a screaming line drive over the center-field wall. He was mobbed by his teammates after crossing the plate.
Mexico starter Luis Manzo reached his pitch limit in the fifth and was relieved by eventual loser Jorge Romero. Neither team threatened again until Mexico's Brandon Montes led off the fifth with a double down the left-field line.
The next batter, Martin Gonzalez, was fooled for strike three but reached when catcher Ryusei Hirooka's throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. Montes moved to third, and Mexico's vociferous fans chanted, `Let's go Mexico.'
Keita Saito relieved and struck out Mendoza before Japan got a huge break. Saul Favela slammed a high fly to deep center, and Montes took a few steps toward home, stopped, and didn't have time to go back and tag up. He was stranded at third when Brandon Meza struck out as Fimbres boiled.
Moments later, Gomi put Japan in front with his homer off reliever Jorge Romero.
Mexico threatened in the bottom of the sixth but was foiled by Japan's stout defense. Jorge Rodriguez led off with a single and was forced at second on Romero's sacrifice attempt. Luis Manzo then hit a grounder into the hole at shortstop, and Sho Miyao gloved it and got the force at second on a close play. Mexico challenged the call, but it stood up through a video replay review. Miguel Artalejo grounded to short to end the game.
Japan starter Nishino had pitched only one inning in the World Series, and manager Masumi Omae had starting first baseman Tsuchida warming up before the game's first pitch.
Japan scored a run in the first on just one hit. Miyao walked, took second on a wild pitch, and scored on a single to right field by Shunpei Takagi.
Mexico starter Manzo settled down after that, striking out four of the next five batters, two looking and two swinging.
Tijuana left fielder Alexander Artalejo was hit hard on the left elbow leading off the second, and Mexico quickly threatened. Rodriguez followed with a sizzling liner to left, and the runners moved up on a passed ball. Nishino then walked Romero to load the bases with nobody out and was relieved by Tsuchida.
Playing the sound fundamental ball it is known for, Japan escaped with its 1-0 lead intact. Manzo hit a dribbler in front of the plate, and Tsuchida flipped the ball to Hirooka for the force at home.
Artalejo then hit a sharp grounder to short, and Miyao got another force at home. Montes, who had four home runs in the World Series, struck out swinging to end the inning.
Japan made it 2-0 in the third. Ishida singled hard up the middle, and Miyao followed with an infield single off Manzo's glove, putting runners at first and second with one out. Ishida was caught trying to take third on a pitch in the dirt that Mexico catcher Favela made a terrific backhand stab on.
Shunpei Takagi singled to right to keep the rally alive, sending Miyao to third. Miyao scored on a passed ball for a 2-0 lead, barely beating the throw as he eluded Favela's tag.
Fimbres also challenged that call to no avail, losing a challenge for the first time in four tries in the World Series.
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