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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'Prince' Saito recovers to lift Japan


Staff writer

Yuki Saito may not have gotten off to the best of starts, but college baseball's Prince Charming still got his storybook finish. Just barely.

Japan scored six runs in the third and Saito recovered from some early setbacks on the mound as the Japan's collegiate national team beat the U.S. 7-5 at the USA vs. Japan Collegiate Championships on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.

Saito left the game with a 6-2 lead then watched from the dugout as the U.S. fought back to make the score 7-5 on a three-run double by Matt Newman in the seventh.

The Americans continued their rally in the next inning against pitcher Masahiro Inui, loading the bases with one out.

Tomoyuki Sugano, relieved Inui and protected the lead with a pair of strikeouts to turn back the U.S. rally.

"To go through our Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the eighth is not an easy task and you have to make great pitches to do that, and he did," U.S. manager Rick Jones said.

The last time Saito, dubbed the "Handkerchief Prince" by many, faced the U.S in this format he was on the losing end of a 7-3 loss in 2005. He looked to be headed for a similar result after giving up a pair of runs in the first. He settled down after that, not allowing another runner past second to earn the win.

"One thing I was excited about in the first inning, we had his pitch count up to 28-29 pitches," U.S. manager Rick Jones said. "Then he had a five-pitch second inning. So we weren't able to build on that as much as I wanted to."

Saito allowed two runs over five innings, walking two and striking out five to earn the win. He improved to 2-1 in three starts against the U.S., after finishing 1-1 in the 2007 clash between the two nations.

Trailing 2-0 in the third, the Japanese rallied behind a litany of bunts and made the most of a pair of U.S. miscues to score seven runs for the first time since the opening game of the 2005 event.

The biggest U.S. mistake came with one out in the third, when starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz fielded a bunt and, trying to nail the lead runner at second, threw the ball into center field. The Japanese team went on to score six runs in the inning.

"We did not take care of the baseball as well today as we did yesterday," U.S. manager Rick Jones said.

"Even though we only made one error, that error was extremely costly in that it extended the inning by one out. That one out led to six runs and you can't do that against a team as talented as Japan."



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