Yomiuri Giants rookie Makoto Kadowaki drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning on Sunday, November 19 as Samurai Japan defeated South Korea 4-3 to win the Asia Professional Baseball Championship.
Hirokazu Ibata was making his managerial debut for three-time World Baseball Classic champion Japan and his players rewarded him with the gold medal.
"It's a huge relief," Ibata said. "We were down 0-2 in the game and the players never gave up and I really appreciate their effort."
South Korea took an early 2-0 lead in the third inning before a near-capacity crowd at Tokyo Dome with two runs off Japan starter Tatsuya Imai.
But Shugo Maki of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars drilled a curveball into the left field stands for a solo homer in the bottom of the fifth to cut South Korea's lead to 2-1.
"The home run by Maki really changed the atmosphere on the bench," Ibata said. "After that we were more relaxed."
Samurai Japan Ties the Score in the 6th
The game then went to extra innings where the tie-break rule went into effect with runners on first and second to start the inning.
In the top of the 10th, South Korea scored once to take a 3-2 lead on Dong Hee Yoon's single up the middle with two outs.
And Koga delivered with a sacrifice bunt that put the runners at second and third.
South Korea then walked Maki to load the bases and Shogo Sakakura of the Hiroshima Carp hit a sacrifice fly that scored the runner from third to make it 3-3.
After Mannami was intentionally walked to load the bases, Kadowaki delivered the game-winning hit.
"Koga did a great job setting the table," said Ibata. "And Kadowaki came through with a huge hit that was typical of him."
Japan pitcher Kojiro Yoshimura picked up the win after giving up one run on two hits in the 10th.
Taiwan beat Australia 4-3 earlier Sunday to claim the bronze medal.
Tournament rosters were made up of the best U-24 players from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Each team was allowed three players over the age of 24, and any player with three years or less of professional experience.
Japan won the first APBC in 2017, beating South Korea 7-0 in the final.
The next major event for Samurai Japan will be the Premier12 tournament in 2024, followed by the World Baseball Classic in 2026 where Japan will be trying to win for an unprecedented fourth time.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.