The finals of the 2017 World Baseball Classic are not until next March, but that has not stopped several nations from preparing early. This week, Japan hosted four exhibition matches in the Tokyo Dome, and just enough Dodger-related stuff happened for it to be worth a post on a Sunday in November.
The two most pertinent games for Dodger fans happened on Thursday and Friday nights, when Japan hosted Team Mexico. Notably, Alex Verdugo was on Mexico’s roster. He started both games in center and turned some heads in the process. In the first game, Verdugo hit a double down the right field line:
¡MÉXICO EMPATA! ¡Doblete de Alexander Verdugo y trae el empate al pentágono!
4ta Alta pic.twitter.com/KXMI3RJ47B
— Toros de Tijuana (@TorosDeTijuana) November 10, 2016
Later in the game, he very narrowly missed a home run foul against Kodai Senga, who in my estimation has top-10 raw stuff in the NPB. Verdugo struck out, hit a grounder to third, and flied out to right in his other three plate appearances, but the balls put in play were hit very hard. He also made an error in center on a tricky hop off of the Tokyo Dome’s artificial turf. Mexico beat Japan 7-3 after the Japanese team played an uncharacteristically sloppy game.
Verdugo one-upped himself in Friday’s series finale, when he hit this homer off of the Carp’s Yusuke Nomura:
¡MÉXICO EMPATA EL ENCUENTRO! ¡CUADRANGULAR DE ALEX VERDUGO!
Japón 3 – México 3 | 4ta Baja | #JapanSeries2016 pic.twitter.com/91csDflQqL
— Toros de Tijuana (@TorosDeTijuana) November 11, 2016
Verdugo grounded out and popped out before being substituted out late in the game. Team Japan won 11-4, bolstered by dominant hitting performances by Shohei Otani and Shogo Akiyama.
Adrian Gonzalez traveled to Japan to watch the series as well. Gonzalez was on Team Mexico’s roster, but was not cleared to play by the Dodgers. Edgar Gonzalez, Adrian’s brother and former Yomiuri Giant, was managing Mexico’s squad.
Despite not playing, Adrian did his best to make an impact, giving Otani a Dodger bag:
가방 받음ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ pic.twitter.com/EBLAPqznEA
— 맘 (@_KIMMOM) November 11, 2016
And a signed jersey:
What a great detail from @Adrian_ElTitan to Japan’s star, Shohei Otani, by giving him his autographed jersey with a message included. pic.twitter.com/JDVcmG16X8
— Puro Beisbol (@PuroBeisbolUSA) November 12, 2016
Ultimately it’s not going to make much of a difference (remember when the Dodgers gave David Price‘s dog a gift bag?), but as a fan the acknowledgement is pretty fun to see. If 2013’s World Baseball Classic is any indication, Otani and Gonzalez may be squaring off in the later rounds next spring.
Speaking of Otani, in Saturday’s game against the Netherlands, he did this:
The pitcher is former major-leaguer Jair Jurrjens, who has had a very rough road since last pitching for the Rockies in 2014. He was playing in Taiwan earlier this year before being released by the Lions in early August due to injury. The pitch Otani hit out appears to be an 85 mph fastball, so it’s not going to tell you much about his MLB game power, but people would have been tweeting about that shot if it was hit in BP at the Futures Game by somebody older than Otani. It’s still worth sharing.
At this point it is increasingly unlikely that Otani will be posted this season. However, the last few days have been a prelude to how fun March will be.