Japan's World Baseball Classic-winning manager Hideki Kuriyama on Monday criticized organizers of the tournament for their sudden change in bracket that as a result pitted the United States against his team in the final.
The two teams were to meet in the semifinals under the original bracket, but the organizers announced a schedule switch on March 16 for two quarterfinal games in Miami amid speculation that they did so to offer a matchup between two of the game's biggest stars -- Los Angeles Angels teammates Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani -- in the final.
"I was making plans for a semifinal showdown against the United States, especially for pitchers," Kuriyama told a press conference in Tokyo. "More than anything, my goal was to beat the Americans, who really got serious for this tournament."
"It turned out to be good in the end, though. I know this is a tournament mainly for major leaguers, but it's not right to make changes once the tournament begins. We spend years creating images for these important games."
Kuriyama sent young Japan-based pitchers to the mound against the potent U.S. lineup featuring Trout, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado before he turned to Yu Darvish and Ohtani in the final two innings for a 3-2 victory on March 21 in Miami.
The United States scored first on a solo home run by Trea Turner in the top of the second inning but was held scoreless from the third to seventh by four Japanese relievers aged between 20 and 25.
Asked by a reporter if he had long planned to have Darvish and Ohtani pitch out of the bullpen, Kuriyama said, "I knew I would need the two men toward the end of the game if we were to beat the United States."
"I won't feel that much pressure for the rest of my life. Pressure mounts as an intense game goes on. In the final, I remember the young pitchers were shaking and were not listening to me at all," he said.
"I thought I got my job done when I sent the two to the mound. I would have been satisfied even if we had lost the game as I did everything possible."
Kuriyama revealed that Darvish had said last August he would take whatever role given to him for the team.
As for Ohtani, whom he helped become a two-way player when he was the Nippon Ham Fighters' manager, Kuriyama said, "Shohei knows what he has to do for the baseball world."
"I'm thankful he took part in the WBC after playing that many games (as a two-way player) over the past two years. He has improved his body strength significantly, compared to five years ago."