Japan National team for the 2015 WBSC Premier12 signifies the team that represented Japan in the WBSC Premier12 that took place in 2015 in Taiwan and Japan. WBSC Premier12, which was founded in 2015, is an international baseball tournament between 12 of the top baseball countries in the world and it takes place once every 4 years.
The Premier12, unlike the World Cup which is meant for amateur teams, is a tournament between professionals and it is held in between the WBC years. The tournament is in a round robin format and the 12 teams are divided into two groups. The top four teams from each group then advance to the quarter finals.
The national team’s manager was Hiroki Kokubo, the former well-known slugger and no 4 from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and the Yomiuri Giants. Kokubo had retired as a player in 2012 and while he hadn’t gained experience after that as a coach or manager of an NPB team, there was no doubting his past achievements and his valued leadership experience as captain of the Hawks and Giants, which was enough to be entrusted the role of manager of the Samurai Japan.
The national team included many young and active Japanese professional baseball players like Kenta Maeda, Shohei Ohtani, Tetsuto Yamada, Tomoyuki Sugano, with the oldest members being Nobuhiro Matsuda and Takeya Nakamura at 32 years old. Similarly to the 2013 WBC tournament, none of the Japanese major leaguers participated in the competition and the team consisted of only NPB players.
With no major leaguers, a manager with no experience, and a team with mostly young athletes, the overall chances seemed low for Samurai Japan, but after beating Puerto Rico twice in a row in the practice matches, they went on to smash their rivals, South Korea, 5-0 in the opening match. The starting pitcher, Shohei Ohtani, was a major contributor to the team’s success. Strike-out-Show showed his might when he allowed only 2 hits in 6 innings and struck out 10 players without losing a single point.
Japan maintained their intensity and defeated Mexico, Dominican Republic, USA, and Venezuela, finishing in first place in group B of the group stages. In the quarterfinals against Puerto Rico, Hiroshima Carp’s ace, Kenta Maeda, defended for 7 innings, allowing 4 hits but not losing a single point. Their batting lineup got 13 hits, scored 9 points, and managed to maintain their lead until the end. With a final score of 9-3, they moved to the semifinals.
There they once again faced South Korea. Shohei Ohtani was the starter again and for 7 innings he completely shut down South Koreas attack. On the other hand, Japan’s batting lineup was also struggling and only managed to get 1 hit up to the 3rd inning. However, after an RBI in the bottom of the 4th they seized the initiative and with the help of errors from the opposing team Japan suddenly scored 3 points. Even after that, Japan was controlling the pace of the match, and victory seemed almost assured.
Yet, in the final moments, in the bottom of the 9th, tragedy struck. Takahiro Norimoto replaced Ohtani on the mound, but after losing 1 point, he was replaced by no 3, Yuki Matsui, when he created a dire situation with no outs and bases loaded.
Matsui wasn’t able to get strikes and his fourth ball pushed the batter in base. Luckily, he was still able to keep his team ahead by one point. Japan then brought Hirotoshi Masui to the mound, but after South Korea’s Dae-ho Lee’s hit raked in 2 points, the tables were turned and Japan was locked out of the finals.
In the fight for 3rd place, Samurai Japan managed to beat Mexico, but manager Kokubo still blames his mistake on switching pitchers in the South Korea match, which he believes led to their defeat and was a hard lesson to swallow.