By JIM ARMSTRONG, Associated Press
FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — Two-time defending champion Japan rallied to beat Brazil 5-3 on Saturday in its opening game of the World Baseball Classic.
Japan trailed 3-2 before adding three runs in the top of the eighth inning in front of a crowd of 28,181 at the Fukuoka Dome.
Hirokazu Ibata came off the bench to tie the game with a single to right that scored Seiichi Uchikawa from second. Japan took a 4-3 lead when Ibata scored from third on a fielder's choice and added an insurance run on Nobuhiro Matsuda's single to center that scored Hisayoshi Chono.
"This was a very difficult game for us," Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. "Brazil put up a very good fight. But we got some timely hits in the eighth and were able to make a comeback."
Brazil, managed by Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, looked ready to pull off an upset when the tournament debutantes took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning on a double by Leonardo Reginatto that scored Paulo Orlando from second.
"These players love to compete," Larkin said. "They love a challenge and this was a challenge similar to the qualifiers when we beat Panama. I'm extremely proud of the way my players performed in this game."
Japan is in Group A, which includes 2006 runner-up Cuba and China. Two teams from the group will advance to the March 8-12 second round at Tokyo Dome with a chance to move on to the March 17-19 championship round in San Francisco.
Japan pitcher Tadashi Settsu, who gave up one run on two hits over three innings of relief, picked up the win. Oscar Nakaoshi took the loss after giving up two runs in the eighth.
Japanese home-run king Sadaharu Oh, who managed the Japan team that won the first WBC, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Brazil silenced the near-capacity crowd by taking the lead in the bottom of the first inning when Reginatto hit a sharp single to left that scored Orlando.
Japan tied the game in the top of the third when Yoshio Itoi singled to right to score Hayato Sakamoto from second.
The hosts took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Sakamoto that scored Ryoji Aikawa from third.
Brazil tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Reginatto doubled and scored on a close play at the plate on a shot to center by Reinaldo Sato.