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Baseball: Japan finally overcomes South Korea to win it all

Japan manager Atsunori Inaba is tossed into the air after a 5-3 win over South Korea in the final of the Premier12 baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome on Nov. 17, 2019. (Kyodo)
Tetsuto Yamada of Japan hits a three-run home run in the second inning against South Korea in the final of the Premier12 baseball tournament at Tokyo Dome on Nov. 17, 2019. (Kyodo)
Japan's pitcher Yasuaki Yamasaki reacts after striking out South Korea's Yang Eui-ji in the ninth inning to win the Premier12 baseball tournament final game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, on Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Samurai Japan erased some demons from the past on Sunday by defeating defending champion South Korea 5-3 in the Premier12 championship game.

    Before a vocal crowd at Tokyo Dome, Japan avenged a pair of heart-breaking losses when South Korea came from behind to beat them here in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and in the semifinals of the 2015 Premier12.

    Tetsuto Yamada blasted a three-run second-inning homer to erase South Korea's early lead, and six Japan relievers shut down their chief Asian rivals over the final eight innings.

    Kim Ha Seong gave South Korea a first-inning lead, homering after Yomiuri Giants right-hander Shun Yamaguchi walked the leadoff hitter. Former major leaguer Kim Hyun Soo went deep with two outs to put Japan in an early 3-0 hole.

    The Giants' Hayato Sakamoto walked and scored from first on a first-inning double off the wall by the Hiroshima Carp's Seiya Suzuki. Down by two after an inning, Japan manager Atsunori Inaba went to his bullpen for the SoftBank Hawks' Rei Takahashi.

    The submarine right-hander kept the Koreans in check in the top of the second and Yamada blasted a three-run home run in the home half off South Korea starter Yang Hyeon Jong.

    "I remember the pain from four years ago, and was able to put a good swing on the ball, so I'm really happy," Yamada said.

    Takahashi worked two scoreless innings followed by two more from Kazuto Taguchi and another by fellow Giants lefty Kota Nakagawa. Hard-throwing Hawks rookie Hiroshi Kaino threw a 1-2-3 seventh.

    In the bottom of the seventh, Sakamoto doubled and scored his second run on a single by the Rakuten Eagles' Hideto Asamura.

    Pacific League ERA leader Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes and Central League saves leader Yasuaki Yamasaki, pitched perfect innings in the eighth and ninth, respectively, preventing South Korea from coming from behind as they had done in 2015.

    "This is the greatest," Inaba said. "The emotions were so strong because of all the work everyone put in. They (South Korea) are a really strong team, and our great rival so it was a challenge."

    The championship saw Japan move past the United States in the World Baseball Softball Confederation rankings. South Korea remained third.

    In the third-place game, two veterans of Japanese pro ball lifted Mexico into a 2020 Olympic berth in a 3-2, 10-inning win over the United States.

    Matt Clark drove in two runs, one on a game-tying ninth-inning home run, and Efren Navarro's RBI single won it.

    Clark played in Nippon Professional Baseball in 2013 with the Chunichi Dragons and in 11 games in 2016 for the Buffaloes. Navarro has played the past two seasons with the Hanshin Tigers.

    With the U.S. leading 2-1 in the ninth, Clark opened the bottom of the inning with a home run off Orix closer Brandon Dickson. It was his second homer at Tokyo Dome in 10 at-bats during the Premier12. In 2013, Clark homered five times in his 35 at-bats at this ballpark.

    In the home half, Navarro came up with one out and the bases loaded and his flare to center field clinched it.

    Jordan Adell homered in the first inning off Arturo Reyes, but Mexico tied it in the sixth on a hard-hit two-out RBI infield single by Clark.

    Dickson, who saved 18 games this season for Orix after being switched to the closer role in the middle of June, had been lights out for his country. He finished the tournament with three saves, while allowing two earned runs and striking out 11 over five innings.

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