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Friday, November 16, 2012
Japan's HR king accepts Ichiro may not play in WBC

Associated Press

TOKYO -- Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh, a special adviser to the national team, says he accepts that Japan may have to defend its title at next year's World Baseball Classic without star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Suzuki, who was instrumental in helping Japan win the WBC in 2006 and 2009, is reportedly considering sitting out the 2013 event, joining fellow Japanese major leaguers Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki.

"It's out of our hands," Oh was quoted saying Friday after Japan beat WBC first-round opponent Cuba 2-0 in an exhibition game. "He played a huge part in the first two tournaments. Nothing is decided yet but I want him to be able to clearly decide the next step in his career."

Oh managed the Japanese squad that won the inaugural WBC in 2006.

Japanese baseball officials invited the 39-year-old Suzuki to join the 2013 team, but don't expect a response until he knows where he will play in the majors next season. Suzuki, a free agent, was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees in July.

Suzuki hit .322 in 67 games for the Yankees and was one of the team's most consistent hitters.

In the final of the 2009 WBC, Suzuki drove in the winning run with a line drive to center in the 10th inning as Japan beat South Korea 5-3 to claim its second straight title.

If he stays in New York, Suzuki may opt to prepare for the 2013 season with the Yankees over taking part in the March 2-19 WBC, which will involve travel between Japan and the United States.

The Nikkansports newspaper reported after Friday's game that people close to Suzuki say he will inform Japan soon of his decision not to take part.

The team that beat Cuba on Friday was made up exclusively of players from Japanese professional baseball and is facing the prospect of having to defend its WBC title without many of its top players from Major League Baseball.

Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners has already said he won't take part in order to prepare for the 2013 season. Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, also a free agent, is also doubtful for the WBC.