|Sunday, August 26
Updated: August 13, 1:12 PM ET
Baba rallies Japan to 2001 title
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Japan celebrated its Little League World Series championship with a bow to history.
For the second time in as many games, Tokyo Kitasuna rallied for two runs in its last at-bat, this time beating Apopka, Fla., 2-1 Sunday night in the title game.
Nobuhisa Baba hit a line drive off the shortstop's glove in the bottom of the sixth and final inning, driving in two runs and giving Japan its fifth Little League World Series title.
On Saturday night, Tokyo won the international championship in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run homer by Atsushi Mochizuki that gave it a 2-1 victory over Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. It was the first time all year Japan had won a game in the sixth inning.
After both wins the players ran to center field and started bowing to a statue of former Little League vice president Howard J. Lamade, the stadium's namesake.
The players had asked interpreter Bill Lundy about the statue, but he didn't know who it was.
"I simply told them that was the baseball god," Lundy said Sunday. "When they won yesterday, they went out to pray to the baseball god."
Masayuki Itoh and Yuusuke Nomura reached base in the sixth inning on errors by third baseman Zach Zwieg, one fielding and one throwing. Both advanced on a fielder's choice, then scored on Baba's line drive to left. The throw from the left fielder was cut off near the mound and there was no play at the plate.
"When it came up to the final at-bat, we weren't trying to win the game all at once, we were just trying to get one run," Tokyo coach Kiichiro Kubo said. "I told them not to swing for the fence, just to put some meat into it."
Tokyo (5-1) had just three hits against Florida and both runs were unearned.
"I was expecting a fastball. It came in a curveball, a little slow, and I just had good timing on the hit," Baba said.
Japan's last title came in 1999, when Hirakata, Osaka, beat Phenix City, Ala., 5-0.
The overnight television rating for the game was 6.0/11, ABC announced Monday, 76 percent higher than it was for the title game last year.
Apopka (4-2) was the seventh Florida team to reach the title game, but no team from that state has ever won. Apopka's coaches did not attend the postgame news conference.
Apopka upset the Rolando Paulino team from the Bronx, N.Y., 8-2 Saturday to win the U.S. championship game. The Bronx had won the earlier meeting over Apopka when left-hander Danny Almonte threw just the third perfect game in Little League World Series history.
Mochizuki (2-0) was the winning pitcher, while Justin LaFavers (2-1), who had all eight of his strikeouts in the first three innings, took the loss.
"I simply thought the Florida pitcher started to get tired," Kubo said.
Andrew Cobb scored the game's first run in the second inning on Jeff Lovejoy's RBI single, a looper that dropped behind third base. Cobb reached base on a fielder's choice, then advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Apopka twice had opportunities to pad its lead late in the game, but couldn't convert. In the fourth inning Mochizuki walked the bases loaded, but the inning ended on a fly ball to right by Stuart Tapley.
With runners on first and third in the fifth, Brandon Brewer left third on a short chopper and was tagged out at home on a fielder's choice. The other runners advanced to second and third, but the inning ended when Cobb grounded out to the pitcher.
Lovejoy led off the sixth with a double down the left-field line, but was tagged out on a fielder's choice between second and third.
"I felt like I played very well throughout the day, but going into the fourth inning I started to get tired," Mochizuki said. "But we were in a pinch, and I knew just knew that I had to come through and gather my strength and do the best I could."
Before the game, President Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch and wished both teams luck.