In a sight rarely seen in sports — while their victorious opponents celebrated their World Baseball Classic 3-1 win on the infield of AT&T Park — the players on Team Japan lined up along the third base line, removed their caps and saluted the fans in the stands along with Team Puerto Rico — the same squad that had just defeated them.
After winning the Classic in 2006 and 2009, Japan found itself outside looking in at the WBC Championship Game for the first time. Puerto Rico will advance to the Classic final, where it will meet the winner of the undefeated Dominican Republic team and the surprising Netherlands.
Although their trademark, fundamentally-sound play, which gave Team Japan two straight titles, was somewhat missing Sunday, the proud tradition of paying respect to their opponents and bowing out gracefully were not.
A missed signal on a double-steal in the eighth cost Japan — with a team filled with Nippon Baseball League players — a late game rally and killed any real chance at a comeback against the surging P.R. team.
It was a hard way for Japan to exit the Classic, but the humbled team did it battling to the end and with a classy farewell.
"In this case, our opponent was really superior, both in pitching and hitting," said manager Koji Yamamoto. "And so we were cornered in a sense."