1990, Japan Prevails
John B. Holway
In the long history of U.S.-Japan series, the Japanese have won two series, 1970 and 1990.
In 1970 they beat the San Francisco Giants six games to three.
In 1990 they bested an American All-Star team four games to three with one tie.
That 1990 U.S. team included:
Lenny Dykstra .325 9
Barry Bonds .301 33
Ken Griffey Jr .300 22
Julio Franco .296 11
Roberto Alomar .287 9
Cecil Fielder .277 51
Kelly Gruber .274 31
Mike Sciosia .264 11
Shawan Dunston .262 17
Glenn Davis .251 22
Jesse Barfield .246 25
Dave Stewart 22-11
Ramon Martinez 20- 6
Dave Stieb 18- 6
Chuck Finley 18- 9
Randy Johnson 14- 11
Oil Can Boyd 10- 6
Bobby Thigpen 57 saves
Rob Dibble 31 saves
Jeff Montgomery 24 saves
The Japanese players were unknown to most Americans, but they did boast one man who would soon make history Hideo Nomo the Central League MVP and rookie of the year.
The Japanese strategy was to send each pitcher to the mound for only two or three innings, thus the Americans would be constantly facing a new hurler almost every time they came to bat.
The Americans may have been suffering from jet lag as they dropped the first four games.
The sleepy visitors got only two hits in the Tokyo Dome as the Japanese beat Boyd 2-1.
Fielder, who had played in Japan the year before (hitting 38 homers), opened the second inning with a single and scored on Glenn Davis home run against 20-game winner Masako Saito. Japan tied it in the third on a walk and three singles and went into the ninth with a 4-3 lead. Thats how it stood in the ninth, when the Americans put two men on base with no outs and Fielder up. He grounded into a double play.
The major leaguers took a quick lead on Griffeys double and Bonds single. Japan tied it with two doubles, one a bloop that fell among three fielders, and went ahead 2-1 on a walk, a steal, and a single. The U.S. loaded the bases in the ninth but couldn't score as Nomo got the victory.
Japan won a blowout 11-6. Theyre out-playing us and out-hitting us, said U.S. skipper Don Zimmer, who had played in Japan in 1966. After 24 years, theyre bigger, theyre stronger, and theyre playing better baseball. The Americans would have to sweep the last four games for a tie.
Japan looked as if it might make it five wins in a row. They took a 5-2 lead in the eighth, but Fielder, playing before his former hometown Osaka fans, blasted a three-run homer to tie the game. Franco followed with a single, and Barfield homered as the American broke out of their slump and went on to a 10-5 victory. When you lose four games in a row, Bonds said, you kind of get tired of it.
The hosts took a 6-3 lead into the sixth, but Gruber knocked in two runs and Barfield one to tie it 6-6. Then the bullpens took over and stopped all further scoring. The tie clinched the series for Japan.
This time the Americans struck first. Fielder walked and scored on a passed ball and error, and Dykstra homered to right to make it 2-0 in the fifth. Two innings later Koji Akiyama (a .257-hitter) slugged a triple to the wall to tie the score 2-2. The visitors scored the winning run in the ninth on a wild pitch.
The Americans went home happy as Finley and Johnson hurled a 5-0 no-hit masterpiece over Nomo. I dont care where it happens Hawaii, Guam, or Japan its still a thrill. No-hitters dont happen every day.
How did Japan win? I think there were several reasons.
1. Every Japanese club had been sending promising players to the States for coaching. Akiyama, the series MVP, is an example.
2. Japan has gained international experience in the Olympics and other top-level competition.
3. Better physiques, training, and equipment.
4. U.S. jet lag.
5. The Japanese used 35 pitchers in the eight games; each one was well rested, while the Americans brought only nine pitchers. This could be a clue to how Japan must win in the future.
Kazuo Sayama has written several books on U.S. baseball in Japanese, including a biography of Roberto Clemente.