OKLAHOMA CITY &
Cat Osterman retired Japan's top hitters with ease all night, then got the simplest out of all to wrap up the World Cup of Softball.
Another U.S. championship was sealed, and Osterman barely even stepped back into the pitching circle to get it.
Tairia Flowers homered, Crystl Bustos added a two-run double, and Osterman was all but unhittable as the United States beat Japan 3-0 in the tournament title game. But after Osterman had struck out 13 in a gem, the U.S. got the final out on a bizarre play with a Japanese runner illegally straying from first base.
"It was sort of sudden. It was very anticlimactic for us," Osterman said.
Runner Aki Uenishi was called out for failing to return to first base quickly enough when Osterman took the ball into the circle.
Umpire coordinator Julie Johnson said Uenishi violated the "look back" rule by making a stop off the base when Osterman entered the circle. Johnson said Uenishi had to either attempt to advance toward second or immediately return to first.
"She seemed to tag up, and the rule is that once the ball's in the circle, the runner has to make a decision &
go one way or another &
and she was just kind of hanging out off the base. The umpire saw that," said Flowers, the U.S. first baseman.
"You hate for the game to end that way because it's such an exciting game."
Uenishi remained on the base for several moments while Japanese coach Haruka Saito sought an explanation from umpires. U.S. players lined up and waited near home plate to shake hands with the Japanese players.
Flowers said American players joked that they should go back and play for the last out.
Through interpretation by the team's trainer, Saito said she thought the umpire's judgment may have been correct but it was a "tough call" for her team in that situation.
Saito said she'd have to see the video replay to evaluate the call because she was watching the next batter approach and didn't see whether Uenishi was off first.
Saito said she didn't remember being involved in a game that ended on such a call, and certainly not a championship game.
That play overshadowed a brilliant performance by the U.S. against its top rival in international softball. Japan had handed the U.S. its last four losses, including one in the 2005 World Cup championship, and the U.S. needed its best effort to push runs across and keep Japan off the board.
Flowers, who'd paced the U.S. offense throughout the tournament, fittingly got it started by driving Hiroko Sakai's first pitch of the second inning easily beyond the center-field fence.
"She kind of left it over the plate a little bit and I took advantage," said Flowers, who went 6-for-13 and led the tournament with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Bustos' double extended the lead in the fifth inning, but only after she fought back from an 0-2 count to push it full. Her hard roller bounded all the way to the left-field fence, allowing Natasha Watley and Jessica Mendoza to score.
The U.S. has beaten Japan six times in its current 22-game winning streak. All four of Japan's recent wins came behind ace Yukiko Ueno, who didn't play at the World Cup.
Japan hit only two balls out of the infield and managed just three hits against Osterman, the left-hander who played at Texas and threw 14 2-3 shutout innings at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Osterman struck out 10 of the first 13 batters she faced, and retired the side on strikes in the third, fourth and sixth innings.
In the second, Emi Naito reached on a squib shot that spun its way about halfway to the pitching circle, but was called out when she was hit by Rie Sato's grounder.
Osterman then struck out the next seven batters before Naito grounded out to shortstop for the first out of the fifth inning. One out later, Megu Hirose lined a single to center field &
the first hit to reach the grass. She was called out for leaving first base early on a pitch, but a freeze frame replay showed she was still on the bag when the ball was in Osterman's hand.
Japan's last chance also was lost at first.
"A bizarre ending. I hated to see it end that way," U.S. coach Mike Candrea said. "I was down writing, so I didn't really get to see what was going on, and then we started walking off the field."
Candrea didn't comment further on the way it ended.
"I have my own opinion," Candrea said. "I guess rules are rules."
The U.S. has won all 16 games this year, also taking the title at the Canada Cup. Entering the Pan American Games, the U.S. has outscored opponents 134-4 this year.
The Americans took a 70-game winning streak into the Athens Games, where they won their third straight Olympic gold medal.
U.S. shuts out Japan to clinch Cup title
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