Japan national team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic was managed by Hiroshima Carp’s former legend slugger Koji Yamamoto, and his team was nicknamed Yamamoto Japan. In the beginning Koji Akiyama was considered a strong candidate for the position of manager, since he had guided the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks into the Pacific League championship victory in 2010 and 2011,
however Akiyama refused the offer, stating that it would be difficult to manage the national team while being an active manager for a NPB team. Thus, Yamamoto was chosen for the position.
Back in his day, Koji Yamamoto, nicknamed “Mr, Red Helmet”, and “The Iron Man” Sachio Kinugasa were the central figures in Hiroshima Carp. Together they brought about the golden age of the team when they achieved 5 Central league and 3 Japan Series championships.
After retiring and later joining the Hiroshima Carp as manager, he was able to lead the team to the Central League pennant in 1991, but many critics were concerned about his ability that he had been away from the baseball scene for 7 years, and during his 10 year tenure as manager his team had 7 B-Class finishes.
On top of that, all 8 active major league players – Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma, Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Munenori Kawasaki, Norichika Aoki, etc. – were asked to join the national team, but each one officially stated that they would not be participating in the WBC. This was a huge blow to the team, and with none of Japan’s MLB players joining, for the first time they would have to put together a team with only NPB players.
Since the symbolic players that pushed the team to victory in the last tournament like Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Yu Darvish weren’t going to be in the team, most of Japanese fans didn’t expect much even though Samurai Japan started piling victories right as the tournament started.
In the first round they faced Cuba, China, and Brazil, managing to come out in 2nd place with 2 wins and 1 loss. In the second round they first secured victory over the Chinese Taipei, and then won against the Netherlands, which got them to the Championship round in the U.S.
The semifinals were held in the San Francisco Giants home stadium AT&T Park, where they went up against Puerto Rico, who had set their sights on advancing up to the finals. The starting pitcher was the Hiroshima Carp’s ace Kenta Maeda. He gave up a point in the first round, but although he gave up hits, the team managed to keep the opposing team from scoring.
On the other hand, their batting lineup was able to produce hits, but they didn’t lead to RBI’s, and scoring a single point continued to seem like a difficult task. In the 7th inning, Atsushi Nomi from the Hanshin Tigers was in a tough spot when he allowed two scores with a home run and Japan being 3 points behind.
During Japan’s attack in the bottom of the 8th inning, Takashi Toritani was able to bat his way to 3rd base and run home off of Hirokazu Ibata hit. This raised hope for a counterattack.
However, when Ibata on 2nd base and Seiichi Uchikawa on 1st base attempted a double steal off of player no 4 Shinnosuke Abe’s hit they were quickly shut down, which drowned all hopes for a continued attack.
As a result, Japan lost to Puerto Rico 1-3, and the dream for a 3rd consecutive WBC victory was shattered.