MESA, Arizona — Team Japan went through the first two rounds of the World Baseball Classic undefeated, and they’re on their way to a semifinal game Tuesday against the winner of the USA/Dominican Republic rematch tonight.
But Saturday, at least, Team Japan was no match for the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, who defeated them 6-4 in front of 14,204 at Sloan Park.
The key takeaway from this one was John Lackey’s fine performance. Lackey became the first Cubs starter to go five innings this spring. He served up a home run to Ryosuke Kikuchi, the second hitter he faced, but after that he allowed just two harmless singles and a walk, and he retired the last 10 Team Japan hitters he faced.
The Cubs got that run back in the bottom of the first. Munenori Kawasaki, given a start and the leadoff spot against his countrymen, played as if he was trying to impress the guys from his home country. He beat out an infield hit, stole second and scored on an infield out. Then he stole second base again after leading off the third inning with a walk. Ben Zobrist smacked a triple deep to center field that scored Mune, and Zobs scored on a single by Jason Heyward. Heyward had two hits on the afternoon and is (I think) slowly looking like he’s making better swings and making better contact.
The Cubs tacked on two more in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Ian Happ, who played left field without incident (two routine putouts) in this one. Miguel Montero later doubled and eventually scored on a single by Jeimer Candelario. Candy also walked twice in this one.
Wade Davis had the best inning he’s thrown so far, a 1-2-3 inning with a nice called K and the aforementioned fly balls to Happ. Pedro Strop also had an easy scoreless inning, but Team Japan hit Dallas Beeler hard in the eight, scoring three runs and making the score closer than the game really felt.
It was 93 degrees at game time and felt hotter, one of the hottest days I can remember at any Cubs spring game. More than 100 Japanese media attended the game; many of them were sitting in the back rows behind third base, and pretty much every one of them was keeping score in a personal scorebook. Speaking of scoring, whoever was running Gameday today had... uh, a few problems. Here’s what I saw on my phone:
So first Carlos Penalver replaced an unknown person in the game, then he switched positions... to the same position. Poor guy. No wonder he struck out in the eighth inning. The game was the fastest of the spring at Sloan Park, two hours, 31 minutes.
The game you might have watched via MLB.tv (from FSN Wisconsin) was quite a bit longer, due to Cubs pitchers allowing 20 hits to the Brewers in a 13-7 loss. That loss, however, came with some fun in the form of Cubs home runs. First, Anthony Rizzo:
I am become Rizz, destroyer of baseballs. pic.twitter.com/UhsITN3YwU— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 18, 2017
That one briefly gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. By the time Addison Russell hit this one in the sixth inning, it was the Cubs’ fourth run... but they trailed by six.
Muscle.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 18, 2017
Addison Muscle. pic.twitter.com/xyN458dVRo
John Andreoli, just back from Team Italy in the WBC, and Jacob Hannemann homered as well. Hannemann also made this spectacular catch:
.@JacobHannemann's day:— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 18, 2017
This homer: https://t.co/6a61jUvG1J
This catch: pic.twitter.com/zVOw5ViIue
Hannemann has been impressive this spring. I saw him play a couple of times in the lower minors and he didn’t look like anything special. He’s shown enough this spring to make me think he could eventually become a fourth or fifth outfielder in the major leagues, if not for the Cubs, then for another team.
10,134 attended the game at Maryvale, their biggest crowd of the spring by almost 3,000 (previous largest: 7,175 on Friday vs. the Royals).
Final note on the Mesa game: I met BCB’s Duane Pesice for the first time, as he and a friend made the drive up from Tucson, where he lives. Couldn’t talk long because I couldn’t stay in the aisle next to their seats, but nice to meet you, hope you enjoyed the experience.
Sunday night at 9:05 p.m. CT, the Kansas City Royals will visit Sloan Park. Once again, Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson will piggyback the game (not sure of the order). Ian Kennedy will go for the Royals.
At 8:30 p.m. CT tonight, there will be a game thread here for the USA/Dominican Republic game, which starts at 9 p.m. CT on MLB Network.