At some point in the future, when racism and nationalism have ceased to exist, I am going to look back to the time that I got up at four fucking thirty in the morning to watch China and Japan compete in a game that insane Americans invented, and think that I did my part.
China takes the field behind Ray Chang, a shortstop in the Pittsburgh system. Chang, who was born to Chinese parents in Kansans City, finally got picked up in informal tryouts after going un-drafted.
Japan, the defending Classic Champion with a roster that boasts plenty of big league talent, is starting Yu Darvish, a 22 year-old Japanese-Iranian phenom and sex symbol, currently playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters (the Fighters are owned by the Nippon Ham company-- they do not do battle with pigs). Darvish, if anything, makes getting up in the middle of the night make sense: he is supposed to be a wonderful, rare talent. In Japan, he is something like a combination of Leonardo DiCaprio and young Doc Gooden and although scouts have thought that he profiled as a front line starter in the American leagues for the last couple of years, he apparently has no interest in coming to the states. According to Wikipedia, he was once suspended from his high school team for smoking a cigarette in a pachinko parlor.
I am not a scout, it is the middle of the damn night, and the competition from the Chinese hitters is far from brisk, but after watching Darvish pitch four no-hit innings (after which he was replaced), he really does seem like the goods. He has an easy, powerful delivery that is amazing to watch. At no point was China remotely close to touching him.
Japan took a 3 run lead in the top of the 3rd, off of a home run from 3rd baseman Shuichi Murata, but have not scored otherwise, despite threatening repeatedly. For China, as of the 5th inning, the highlight was Ray Chang making a nifty play to throw out a runner at home.
In the 6th, Japan scored a fourth run on a hilarious balk: the Chinese pitcher was a submariner, and as he brought his hand up to throw, he just twisted his hand to throw to first at the last instant of his motion. Yeah, you’re not supposed to do that. Ichiro went 0-5, but made a good catch in the outfield.
From the broadcasters:
-only one Chinese player weighs over 200 lbs
-Something about the stitching in the ball used in Japanese baseball is more conducive to breaking balls, for which Japanese pitchers are known.
The Japanese team looks really good, and should be a serious threat in the tournament. If they were a team in the majors, I don’t think they would be worse than .500. Yu Darvish is the real deal, and the rest of the pitching also seems extremely good. Their offence seemed disappointing, but they got men on base in most innings and were consistently threatening—they could have easily had more runs. I was somewhat disappointed that I did not get to see any needless sacrifice bunts, which is apparently a feature of Japanese baseball.
The Chinese team is not good, although Chang looks like a fairly decent player. If they want to improve, I think they should use their massive amount of US debt to try and get Manny Ramirez.