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Ichiro plays familiar role of hero in Japan victory

Associated Press / March 25, 2009
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Given a chance to beat South Korea in the 10th inning, Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki came through for Japan.

It didn't have to be that way.

The eight-time American League All-Star lined a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th inning, and Japan beat reigning Olympic champion South Korea, 5-3, Monday night to win its second straight World Baseball Classic title before a lively crowd of 54,846 at Dodger Stadium.

With runners at second and third, South Korea could have opted to take the bat out of Ichiro's hands, but didn't do so. Manager Kim In-sik acknowledged the mistake afterward.

"I don't know why the pitcher tried to pitch directly to Ichiro," Kim said through a translator. "I did not understand. In the end, it did not work out for us. The pitcher and the catcher did not communicate well in terms of their signs.

"And in the end, that led to the hit by [Ichiro]. Of course I have a regret as to what happened."

The 35-year-old Ichiro is a .331 hitter in eight seasons with the Mariners after starring in Japan. He tied Lou Gehrig's major league record with his eighth straight season of at least 100 runs and 200 hits last year.

Japan won the inaugural WBC three years ago, beating Cuba, 10-6, in the championship game at Petco Park in San Diego.

Japan, which outhit South Korea, 15-5, blew several scoring opportunities, stranded 14 base runners.

Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka won the MVP award for the second straight time after going 3-0 - the same record he had in the first WBC. He had a 2.45 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over three starts. "I feel that I am very lucky," he said. "I'm really thankful for the MVP. I didn't think it was going to be me at all."

Kell dies at 86
George Kell, the Hall of Fame third baseman who edged Ted Williams for the 1949 AL batting title and became a Detroit Tigers broadcaster for nearly 40 years, died yesterday in Swifton, Ark. He was 86. Jackson's Funeral Home in Newport, Ark., confirmed the death but did not give a cause. Kell outlasted Williams for the 1949 batting crown, hitting .34291 while the Red Sox great finished at .34276. Obituary, B14 . . . Athletics manager Bob Geren received a one-year contract extension through the 2010, with a team option for 2011 . . . Phillies ace Cole Hamels pitched in a minor league game in Clearwater, Fla., his first start since experiencing elbow tightness last week.

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