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The Japan News/Yomiuri
The Japan News/Yomiuri
Kosuke Fukui / Yomiuri Shimbun Sportwriter

Ohtani HR drives Samurai to sweep of pool

Superstar Shohei Ohtani launched a massive three-run homer in the first inning, as Japan cruised to a 7-1 victory over Australia in the World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome on Sunday.

The national team, nicknamed Samurai Japan, swept all four games in Pool B, easily advancing to the quarterfinals atop the group.

At Tokyo Dome on Thursday, Samurai Japan will host Italy, the second-place finisher in Pool A played in Taichung, Taiwan. The winner of the quarterfinal will advance to the semifinals held in Miami, which will also host the final.

In Sunday's game, designated hitter Ohtani came to the plate in the top of the first inning with runners on first and second and nobody out. He sent a curveball to right center field, hitting an advertising board with his image above the outfield stands.

According to the official website of Major League Baseball, the ball flew more than 136 meters.

"It's been a long time since I hit the ball so well," Ohtani said. "It was an awesome sight."

The home run was Ohtani's first in the WBC.

"It's been a dream since childhood and I wanted to hit one as soon as possible," the 28-year-old said.

He grew up watching the heated matches between Japan and South Korea in the first two WBCs, in 2006 and 2009, both won by Samurai Japan. Although he was selected for the national team for the previous tournament in 2017, he had to withdraw shortly before it started with a right ankle injury.

He's certainly making his mark in his first appearance on the WBC stage.

The Los Angeles Angels two-way player contributed in all of Japan's four wins in the first round. He started the opening game against China and was the winning pitcher, allowing no runs and one hit over four innings with five strikeouts. Batting third as Samurai Japan's designated hitter, he has scored runs in all four games and has a tournament-leading eight RBIs. Ohtani is batting .500 with a .684 on-base percentage.

Batting behind Ohtani is Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami. The 23-year-old cleanup hitter has performed poorly in the tournament. But even after Murakami grounds out and advances a runner, Ohtani encourages his teammate: "Nice job moving up the runner. That's important."

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