The iconic image of Japan’s victory over South Korea in the final of the 2009 World Baseball Classic was of Ichiro Suzuki, the team captain, grinning as he hoisted the silver trophy amid a circle of teammates at Dodger Stadium.
Japan’s quest to claim its third consecutive WBC title, and its first without the former Mariners superstar, began Saturday in Fukuoka, Japan, with a 5-3 victory in Pool A over tournament newcomer Brazil.
The four-pool, three-round Classic tournament struggles for acceptance among fans and players in North America, where action begins next weekend, but it is a different matter in Asia. From the ceremonial first pitch, delivered by Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese home run champion, enthusiastic Japan supporters in a crowd announced at 28,181 wore white and blue, the team colors, beat noisemakers, pounded drums, played horns and waved flags.
Brazil, managed by the Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, but Japan rallied, elating its fans.
At a boisterous Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan, play began in Pool B, and the host team, led by Chien-Ming Wang, rolled to a 4-1 win over Australia. Later, the Netherlands upset South Korea, 5-0.
Notable stars such as Ichiro, beginning his first full season with the Yankees, and Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers are absent from Japan’s roster.
Both players made large contributions to the 2009 title. Also missing is Daisuke Matsuzaka, the most valuable player of the two previous Classics. Japan topped Cuba in the final in 2006.
SELIG TALKS DRUGS
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called for tougher penalties for players who violate the sport’s drug agreement, a move the union is willing to consider but not for the 2013 season.
Selig said last year’s positive drug test for All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera and allegations players received banned substances from a now-closed Florida anti-aging clinic helped lead him to seek stiffer penalties as quickly as possible.
He wouldn’t give specifics, saying MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred and players’ union head Michael Weiner will meet.
The Angels renewed the contract of American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout for $510,000, prompting an angry response from the outfielder’s agent.
Craig Landis said his client was disappointed with the decision. The salary is $20,000 above the major league minimum.
“During the process, on behalf of Mike, I asked only that the Angels compensate Mike fairly for his historic 2012 season, given his service time,” Landis said in a statement. “In my opinion, this contract falls well short.”
Trout has 1 year, 70 days of major league service and is likely to be eligible for salary arbitration after the 2014 season and for free agency after 2017.
Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum was scratched from a start against the Cubs because of a blister on his right middle finger. … Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Johan Santana (shoulder) is becoming “less and less likely” to be ready for the team’s opener against San Diego on April 1.