TAICHUNG, Taiwan — Right after Tzu-Wei Lin crushed a home run to right field in the bottom of the first to send the sellout Taiwanese crowd into a frenzy, you knew this game had the potential to be a high-scoring one. The fans, loud as ever, wanted it. And, well, they got it — with the result they wanted.
After five different lead changes, pitching changes for nearly every lefty-righty matchup and some clutch homers, Chinese Taipei got its first win of the 2023 World Baseball Classic with a decisive 11-7 victory over Italy on Friday.
“You have to give Taipei the credit there,” Team Italy manager Mike Piazza said. “They battled extremely hard. They were very difficult in those at-bats. We just couldn’t seem to get that strikeout pitch. Look, they were obviously feeling the energy from the fans, and we gave up those home runs.”
Lin’s home run didn’t hold for long, as Italy came back to score two in the top of the second on a Nicky Lopez squeeze bunt (the hero from the night before had two hits and three RBIs in Friday’s game). Ben DeLuzio also delivered an RBI triple into the left-center-field gap.
Tsung-Che Cheng got his team even again in the bottom of the frame, driving in Chieh-Hsien Chen with a single to right. Chinese Taipei seemed to then pull away with three more runs in the third. Chen singled in a run, Po-Jung Wang singled in another and Chinese Taipei tacked on another run after a tough grounder got by Lopez for an error at third.
Down three and with the raucous undying support of the Taiwanese crowd bringing so much momentum to Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium, you might think it’d be hard, mentally, for Italy to come back again. But somehow, it did.
Lopez and Miles Mastrobuoni each delivered RBI singles and then, with two outs, Italy got the lead back with a Sal Frelick double to right-center field. The Italians got another run in the fifth on a, you guessed it, Lopez single. Team Italy was now up, 7-5.
The crowd never stopped cheering, though, from the mascots to the dancing cheerleaders on the dugouts to the fans barely taking a rest to sit in their seats.
“The environment, I was very surprised with, with the cheerleaders and the noise throughout their offensive at-bats,” Piazza said. “… When you’re in the stadium, it’s a whole different experience.”
And the team felt that love. Well, at least, Yu Chang did — cranking a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth.
“We just couldn’t seem to make the right pitch when we needed it, and we battled back, so I have to give my team credit,” Piazza said. “We gave them a definitely game, but unfortunately, we just couldn’t seem to get that big out when we needed like we did last night [against Cuba].”
Then, with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, Kuo-Chen Fan, the pride of Fubon, hit a slow dribbler that shortstop David Fletcher just couldn’t handle. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if he handled it cleanly anyway. Kungkuan Giljegiljaw put the game clearly out of reach in the eighth with a long three-run home run to center.
Both Chinese Taipei and Italy now move to 1-1 in Pool A, setting the Taichung bracket up for a tight finish over the next couple of days.
Chinese Taipei’s next game is against Netherlands (2-0) here on Saturday (6 a.m. ET, FS2), while Italy takes on Panama (1-2) on Saturday (11 p.m. ET Friday, FS1). Cuba (1-2) is also in Pool A. Each team faces the other four in round-robin play, with the pool’s winner and runner-up advancing to the quarterfinals in Tokyo against the top teams from Pool B.