JAPAN BEATS SOUTH KOREA to win its second World Baseball Classic in a row. The final game between the two rival nations reached its peak with a two-out hit from Ichiro that put Japan back on top for good in extra innings. From Jack Curry in the New York Times:

Ichiro Suzuki lined a two-out, two-strike single to center field off Chang Yong Lim to drive in two runs in the 10th and ignite a celebration from Dodger Stadium to Tokyo. But Suzuki did not immediately celebrate. After he scooted to second on the throw home, he showed no emotion. He calmly lifted his hand to call a timeout.

“I believe that Ichiro’s hit is something I’ll never forget,” said Tatsunori Hara, the Japanese manager. “It’s an image that will forever be imprinted in my mind.”

Amazingly, it was a hit that shouldn’t have had a chance to happen in the first place:

The South Koreans decided not to intentionally walk Suzuki, who batted with runners on second and third, and the decision doomed them.

In Sik Kim, the South Korean manager, said the team had signaled to Lim that he was supposed to pitch around Suzuki. If Suzuki did not bite at a bad pitch, Lim was supposed to walk him. But Lim apparently did not get those signs or did not obey them.

“I don’t know why the pitcher tried to pitch directly to Ichiro,” Kim said.

Suzuki diplomatically said that he was not surprised that the South Koreans pitched to him because walking him would have loaded the bases. But even Kim said that he regretted not walking Suzuki. During the memorable at bat, the usually focused Suzuki said his mind was cluttered.

“I really wish I could be in a state of Zen,” Suzuki said. “I kept thinking of all the things I shouldn’t think about. Usually, I cannot hit when I think of all those things. This time I got a hit. Maybe I surpassed myself.”

And despite the emphasis on their cultural rivalries, the two teams seem to share a similar approach to how they play the game – an approach that has proven mostly successful:

The all-Asian championship reiterated that the rest of the world plays excellent baseball, too, and was a credit to the two teams that play in a more disciplined way than the United States. Japan and South Korea feature pitchers who are not immune to throwing strikes and players who are smart and aggressive. Japan was a little smarter, a little more aggressive and a little better.

“They try to play as sound, as errorless and as perfect, that word should be perfect, as perfect baseball as they can,” said Shane Victorino of the United States. “And that’s how you win ball games.”

Good stuff.