Mexico's ace trumps Japan, will see US
Sauceda nixes rally in relief to earn International Championship
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Coach Shingo Ayishu wore the face of disappointment as he tried to explain Saturday what went wrong for his Little League team from Japan.
"I wanted the boys to play the final tomorrow," Ayishu said through a translator. "Now, that's impossible."
The impossibility had less to do with how Ayishu's boys from Tokyo played and more to do with Mexico, the team that defeated his team, 5-4, in the International Championship of the Little League World Series.
To the victor, Mexico, went the reward: A berth in the title game Sunday afternoon against the U.S. champion (either Hawaii or Lake Charles, La., who were playing in the late game).
Not that the prospects of Japan playing in that title game didn't look promising early, because they did.
Taking on a deep, talented team from Matamoros, Mexico, that decided to save its ace (right-hander Jesus Sauceda) for later in the ballgame, Japan took a lead in the first inning against right-hander Carlos Balboa.
Balboa wasn't at his sharpest.
"I was a little nervous," he said through a translator. "I wanted to throw good pitches."
In the first, Balboa's pitches might have been a tad too good -- at least for Mexico coach Gustavo Gomez's liking. Because Tsuyoki Setoguchi stroked a single off Balboa with one out, and Ryo Motegi then followed with a single.
On Motegi's hit, Segotuchi scored and Motegi took third when right-fielder Eduardo Rodriguez's overthrow sailed out of play.
One out later, Motegi scored on Yutaka Takeshita's infield single.
Yet one thing Ayishu, his team and everybody else in Lamade Stadium have seen here is that Gomez's boys from Matamoros don't unravel easily. They didn't this time either.
Their offense came to life in the second. They loaded the bases on three singles but couldn't turn those three hits into runs. But in the third, Mexico broke through against right-hander Ryosuke Moriuchi.
Doubles from Tomas Castillo and Ruben Molina scored one run, and center fielder Sergio Rodriguez's shot over the wall in deep center gave Mexico a 3-2 lead.
Two more runs scored as Mexico pushed across five runs in the inning.
That looked to be plenty as Balboa, who'd complained earlier in the tournament of arm soreness, rolled along.
But like Gomez's team, Ayishu's boys didn't unravel either. They knew what was at stake as well as Mexico did.
"They didn't want to lose at all," Gomez said. "They were very hard to beat."
And as the game unfolded, Japan looked as if it might be unbeatable. It scored twice in the fifth, cutting a 5-2 deficit to 5-4 and to position itself for a last-inning rally.
That rally didn't happen -- not this time. For Gomez turned to Sauceda, his ace. He closed out the game to send Mexico into the title game Sunday afternoon.
"Yes, we had to hold our breath," Gomez said. "But desperation wasn't going through our head."
No desperation, just the one game that Japan had hoped to play. That's in his team's head, just as it was in the heads of the boys on Ayishu's team.
They won't play in it; Gomez's boys will.
"We're just one game away," Gomez said of winning the World Series. "And the kids know it."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.