Shohei Otani and Manager Kuriyama unite in a “restaurant meeting” that “is in a different dimension from ours. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Shohei Otani and Manager Kuriyama unite in a “restaurant meeting” that “is in a different dimension from ours.

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Shohei Otani responds to the cheers of the fans during his hero interview after the game (Photo: AFLO)

The Japanese national team, aiming to win the World Baseball Classic (hereinafter referred to as “WBC”) for the first time since 2009, started the tournament on a bright note by beating the Chinese national team 8-1 in the opening game. Shohei Ohtani, the center of attention, started as a pitcher and batted third as a DH.

Shohei Ohtani started as a pitcher and batted third as a DH. (As a pitcher), I had a fixed pitch count, but I threw with the intention of keeping the count at zero. (As for my timely hit in the fourth inning) I was so close to hitting a home run, so it would have been nice if I could have gotten a few more strikes.

(About playing in the uniform of Samurai Japan at Tokyo Dome for the first time in a long time) It was special for me, and the Chinese national team was playing great baseball, so I really didn’t know what was going to happen in the middle game. I think it was a great game that everyone was able to win.

He turned pro in 2013 and played for Nippon Ham for five years. After moving to the Majors, he struggled with injuries at times, but in 2021, his fourth year in the majors, he “finished” a season as a pitcher and hitter. He won the American League MVP award for the season. In the last two seasons, there was not a day that went by that Ohtani was not seen on Japanese television. The voltage in Tokyo Dome was at its peak as people wanted to see Otani “live” in his real two-fisted style, throwing his fastball on the mound and hitting a series of home runs at bat, just like the main character in the comic book series.

The moment Otani came out of the bullpen to take the mound for the first inning, the crowd erupted in a ground-shaking cheer, and after just one pitch was thrown in pitching practice, there was a roar of excitement. Sadaharu Oh, the 2006 WBC winning manager and chairman of SoftBank, who appeared in the stands as a commentator for the live Amazon Prime Video broadcast, said, “It was like a laser beam was focused on Otani,” describing the way the crowd reacted to every pitch he threw and every swing he took at bat in his unique way. He described the reaction of the crowd to each swing of the bat.

In his first four innings on the mound, Otani allowed only one hit and no runs, but the Japanese batting lineup, perhaps due to the stiffness of their first game, gave up only one run in their chances. It was Otani who saved the day. The highlight came in the fourth inning with the score 1-0. With Nutever on third base and Kondo on first with one out and runners at first and third, Ohtani swung at a difficult two-seamer on the third pitch, low on the outside corner, and hit a double off the left field fence to extend the lead to 3-0.

Sadaharu Oh, who holds the world record with 868 homers, described the astonishing hit as he watched from the stands.

If you pull that ball, it would normally be a ground ball. It’s a difficult ball.

Tatsunori Hara, the manager of the Giants who led Japan to victory in the 2009 WBC, was also surprised by Ohtani’s power as he commented on the TBS broadcast, “Batting in a different dimension from ours,” as he hit a sinking ball that seemed to escape the batter’s body directly over the left field fence.

In the sixth inning, with a three-run lead, the lower-ranked Chinese team scored a single run, and the game remained deadlocked at two runs apiece. A source in the baseball world revealed the following.

Two years ago, while Otani was back in Japan after the major league season, Kuriyama had dinner with Otani at a fancy French restaurant in Tokyo. They must have talked about the WBC there.”

Two years ago in the offseason, Ohtani completed his first two-fisted season in the majors. He pitched to nine wins and hit 46 home runs, drove in 100 runs, and stole 26 bases. It is no surprise that Kuriyama, who had just been appointed as the leader of the Samurai Japan team, approached him about participating in the WBC. Otani, who had clearly set his sights on representing Japan in the WBC since he was a student at Hanamaki-Higashi High School, must have had new motivation for the 2017 tournament, as he said, “I have never aimed for anything other than first place since I started playing baseball.

The day before the opening game, Otani revealed to the press.

It is very special to be on this kind of stage with a coach who has been so kind to me, and if we can win the championship together, there is nothing better than that.

Fans may have been concerned about Japan’s unexpectedly hard-fought victory over the lower-ranked Chinese team, but Otani showed Japanese fans that he can hold his own on the mound, and with a single swing of his bat, take the lead. The “Showtime” for Japan’s first victory in the WBC since 2009 has just begun.

Press conference in January when the Japanese WBC team was announced (Photo: Sankei Shimbun)

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