Keita Watanabe had the batters baffled.
Six innings into Friday’s game against Canadian Sidearm Nation at the Ramada World Baseball Challenge, the Team Japan pitcher had yet to give up a hit.
His teammates offered plenty of support, giving him a 12-0 lead to work by the time the sixth inning was in the bag. With just one more no-hit inning needed for Watanabe to complete his pitching gem in mercy-rule fashion, much to the surprise of the 500 or so spectators watching at Citizen Field he was told by his coach to stay in the dugout, replaced by Daiki Tajima.
Tajima struck out Aaron Dunsmore, but the next natter he faced, Kevin Czarnecki, ripped a liner up the middle to break up the no-no, and Joey Underwood followed up with a double.
But it wasn’t nearly enough for the Calgary-based Sidearm Nation, not that it really mattered anyway, with the tournament playoff matchups already determined before the game began. Tajima retired the side and the game was over after seven innings, based on the 10-run deficit mercy rule.
The 22-year-old Watanabe, who lives in Fukujima, Japan, said it didn’t bother him he was yanked out of the game needing only three outs to make a no-hitter official. He already has one this year and three in his career in the Japanese Industrial League.
“It’s a team effort so it doesn’t matter who ends the game,” said Watanabe, speaking through interpreter Etsuko Rustad. “We are here to win and we want to make sure we win (Saturday’s) game. I just wanted to win, one hitter at a time, and we’re doing it for the team, not for individual success.”
Japan (6-0) will face the Roswell Invaders (5-1) in the championship game Saturday at 6 p.m. and Watanabe will be available to throw if needed. He’d love another opportunity to unleash his fastball, clocked at 145 kilometres per hour (90 miles per hour), before he leaves Prince George with his team.
In his only other WBC appearance, Watanabe went the full seven innings Monday in an 11-1 win over the Kamloops Sun Devils. He gave up just four hits that game and struck out seven, just like he did Friday.
Sidearm Nation batters J.P. Wilner and Billy Clapperton hit Watanabe hard in the fifth inning. Willner’s deep fly to left field was caught by Domon Kanata and it took a hard run and overhead catch by Sugano Tsuyoshi in right field to prevent Clapperton’s hard-hit slicer from landing on the field in fair territory.
Japan had an 8-0 lead in the sixth inning when Takuma Hasegawa teed off on Justin Johnston for a grand slam. They scored six runs in the second inning off Sidearm Nation starter Geoff Freeborn, who served up a two-run home run to Shoti Kitamura. Hasegawa’s single in the second scored the sixth run of the inning. Through six games, Hasegawa is hitting .458 with two doubles and two home runs.
Sidearm Nation (3-3) will face the Thurston County Senators (1-5) Saturday at 2 p.m. in the bronze medal game. The Senators lost 9-3 Friday to Roswell.