The third edition of the World Baseball Classic, baseball’s answer to the World Cup, was not a happy one for East Asia.
Japan won the first back tournament in 2006, beating Cuba, and repeated the feat three years later, edging out South Korea in the final.
In 2013, however, the last two teams standing were not Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, or for that matter American, but the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In the end, the Dominican Republic took the trophy in one of the country’s greatest sporting achievements.
The celebrations may have been wild in San Francisco, where the final took place, but in East Asia there was much to ponder.
Japan at least reached the semifinals this year, but lost 3-1 to the unfancied Puerto Ricans.
Japan’s manager Koji Yamamoto offered no excuses.
"Of course I have aimed for three consecutive winning championships, and I had some expectation that we would be able to do that," the 66-year-old said. "But this is such a big international game, and it's been a while since I did the big international game. I did have pressure that I need to do this.
“The opponent had a great team tonight,” Yamamoto added. “Hitters were good, they were really aggressive, and the pitchers were especially good. So it was really hard to seize the opportunity. In that sense, you win or lose in any game, and today, our opponent was better.”
It was clear that a three-peat would be tough when it was known that Japan could not call upon its MLB stars for the meet. The loss in the semifinal highlighted the team’s lack of offensive capabilities.
"We were all domestic players from Nippon baseball," Yamamoto said. "It's challenging to get adjusted before the season, so as a team, despite the challenges, they really had the unity to fight the game."
After losing to Japan in warm-up games on February 23rd and 24th, Australian manager Jon Deeble told the Japan Times that this was not as strong a team as Japan had fielded in the past.
“They don’t have Darvish, (Daisuke) Matsuzaka, or the stars,” Deeble said after losing to Japan in Osaka in February. “They’re going to find it tough. It’s very hard to win three in anything. I think they’re behind the eight-ball trying to win three WBCs.”
It could have been worse. Korea, third in 2006 and second in 2009, didn’t even make it out of the group stage this time, although it was close. South Korea was edged out on a tiebreaker by Taiwan and Netherlands.
Losing 5-0 to the Dutch in the first round of games was a shock for South Korea.
Manager Ryu Joong-il could only say sorry for the thrashing at the hands of the Europeans, much better known for their football prowess.
''I apologize to the (Korean) people for what was the worst display of baseball ability,” Ryu said. “A day is more than enough for a turnaround in morale. We will train and regroup for a day and seek to win against Australia and Taiwan at all costs.’’
Korea did just that, winning both, but it was not enough.
And when Taiwan was thrashed 14-0 in the knockout stage by Cuba, things became worse for East Asia. In the end, none of the region’s teams emerged triumphant.