World Baseball Classic: Italy to the (almost) impossible challenge with the Japanese titans
The time has come for the challenge with the titans. At the Tokyo Dome, at 11 Italian time (19 local time) on Thursday 16 March, Italy challenges Japan for the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. The match will be broadcast live on Sky Sport Uno and Sky Sport Arena. Italy trained at the Tokyo Dome in the late Japanese morning, gradually gaining confidence with the surface and environment of the historic facility in the Japanese capital, which has hosted Japanese and international baseball games since 1988 and is the current home of the Yomiuri Giants . The over 50,000 seats will be populated by local fans in the last match to be played in the land of the rising sun in the 2023 edition of the World Baseball Classic.
In view of the clash with Japan, the Azzurri have implemented a change in the roster with the addition of Brian Marconi (born in 1997, left-handed, in 2022 in the triple A team affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies) in place of Joe Biagini. Otherwise, the team remains the same with eyes on Nicky Lopez (8-16, 7RBI in the first phase) and Brett Sullivan (6-15, 2RBI in the first phase) in offense in addition to the Fletcher brothers. On the mound, the blue starter will be Ryan Castellani (starting against China Taipei), with all pitchers available apart from Matt Harvey, who due to 57 pitches on Sunday is forced to rest for 4 days and therefore cannot be deployed for the quarterfinal.
Japan enters the match with 4 wins out of as many games. Statistically a top 3 offensive production team (38 runs, 11 doubles, 4 home runs) in the first phase of the entire World Baseball Classic and defensively conceded only 8 runs in 36 innings with 54 strikeouts and only 4 bases granted. As for the roster, the Japanese led by manager Kuriyama have called up right-handed pitcher Soichiro Yamazaki in place of his counterpart Ryoji Kuribayashi. The starter of the match will be, as expected, Shohei Ohtani (4IP thrown against China, 6-12 batting in the first phase and MVP of Group B), with the rest of the staff ready to intervene, including Yu Darvish, starter of the match with Korea in the first phase. In the lineup, pay attention to the contributions of Lars Nootbaar (player of the St. Louis Cardinals, of Japanese origin, 6-14 in the first phase) and Kensuke Kondoh (7-15 with 2HR), as well as the high-level bats of Munetaka Murakami and Masataka Yoshida . The Asian national team has always entered the top 4 of the world event: it won two editions of the Classic (2006-2009), and was defeated in the semifinals in 2013 (by Puerto Rico) and 2017 (by the USA).
«It is a great honor for us to play against Japan, a strong and traditional team. We are coming off a series of intense games and I think we are ready. If we play good baseball and limit errors to the maximum, we can have an equal chance. From a defensive point of view we showed good things, but we will have to be perfect in terms of defense and positioning against a team like Japan. Our condition is good, we are working with the staff to ensure that the boys are ready and that they return from the experience without injuries. Facing Ohtani (probable starter) is a great opportunity with a once in a lifetime player. Is it an all-in game for them? It's an all-out opportunity for us too and we'll do everything to bring home the victory,” said coach Mike Piazza. «Playing at the Tokyo Dome against Shohei (Ohtani, ed) will be wonderful. It's a game with no tomorrow and it doesn't happen many times in a career except in the playoffs. They have so much talent and level pitchers. For our part, we will bring our energy onto the pitch and try to bring it to Miami. We spoke briefly with Shohei but there was no bellicose declaration... It will be fun to face him and we will try to do the best we can against him and the other pitchers», added fullback David Fletcher.