FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — Two-time defending champion Japan beat a surprisingly resilient Brazilian team 5-3 on Saturday in its opening game of the World Baseball Classic.
Japan, playing without its top players from Major League Baseball, had to rally from a 3-2 deficit with three runs in the top of the eighth inning before a crowd of 28,181 at Fukuoka Dome.
Pinch hitter 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 set to pull off a major 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.
Brazil shocked the baseball world when it ousted Panama in qualifying on its home turf.
"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 also 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 at Fukuoka Dome 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 showed its determination by tying the game 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth. Reginatto doubled and then scored on a close play at the plate on a single to center by Reinaldo Sato.