Japanese fans celebrate World Baseball Classic title

Updated: March 21, 2006, 9:50 AM ET
Associated Press

TOKYO -- Japanese fans sang "We are the Champions" and jumped up and down Tuesday as their team won the first World Baseball Classic.

"This is history," Kiyotaka Itai said at a sports bar after Japan's 10-6 victory over Cuba in the final. "Who knows what's going to happen in the future? But at least we in Japan got this very special day."

The victory was especially sweet for Japan, which qualified for the semifinals only after the United States was upset by Mexico. Japan reached the final by beating South Korea for the first time in three attempts during the tournament.

Japan has traditionally struggled against the Cubans in international play. Fans watching the championship game at the bar grew silent as Cuba threatened a comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning.

But the place broke into cheers when Ichiro Suzuki drove in an insurance run in the ninth, making the score 7-5. By the final out, another two dozen or so passers-by had gathered outside to add their voices to the tumult.

Fans crowded other sports bars across the nation Tuesday afternoon, which was Vernal Equinox Day, a national holiday. The game was broadcast live.

Television ratings were expected to exceed the big numbers for the semifinal matchup with South Korea.

Still, there was less excitement in Japan than South Korea. Japanese fans generally consider their country's baseball to be the best in Asia, and reaching the final was more of a pleasant surprise than a shock.

Nonetheless, the team's play before Japan overcame its Asian rival had some fans worried.

"Up until Japan beat South Korea, I didn't think we would make it. But after that game, I finally thought we had a chance," said Shun Kando, a 43-year-old actor. "I'm so happy. Japan's the world champion!"

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press