On paper, it was probably the biggest mismatch of the World Baseball Classic: two-time defending champion Japan got to open up Saturday against a Brazil squad denied the only major leaguer its ever produced (Yan Gomes opted to sit out the tournament to better his chances of making the Indians).
On the field, it was a different story. Brazil jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the fist and led 3-2 after five before Japan rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth to win 5-3.
Brazil still ended up outhitting Japan 9-7. Japan failed to collect a single extra-base hit in the game, but it was aided by six walks.
Japan was missing its best power source when catcher Shinnosuke Abe was scratched from the lineup with a right knee injury. Abe, though, did pinch-hit, and he broke the tie with an RBI groundout in the eighth. Even if it’s just as a DH, it’s very important that Japan get Abe’s bat back in the lineup as a middle-of-the-order threat.
Another concern for Japan is that top starter Masahiro Tanaka struggled through his two innings, giving up four hits and an unearned run. He was removed after 23 pitches, as Japan figured it was better off going to relievers. Tadashi Settsu ended up with the win after allowing one run and striking out four in three innings.
Next up for Japan is a similarly weak China team on Sunday. If things go according to plan in Pool A, Japan and Cuba will be 2-0 heading into Wednesday’s showdown, rendering the contest largely irrelevant (the top two teams advance). Cuba plays Brazil in its opener Sunday in Japan (Saturday night in the U.S.).