Some of this country’s best college baseball players were utterly dominant …in this country.
The first game USA Baseball’s 2009 collegiate national team, which includes Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray, played outside America’s borders was a different story.
Thursday, Team USA fell 7-1 to Budo University at Chiba, Japan. It was the final exhibition for the Americans before they opened play in the 37th USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Championship.
The Americans responded with a 3-0 victory over Japan on Saturday in the opener of the five-game series against Japan’s best. That contest was played before 9,215 at Matsuyama, Japan.
“I think we came out flat against Budo University and had some bad breaks,” Gray told The City Paper in an e-mail. “We didn’t really know what to expect from Japanese teams and they really taught us quickly (about) Japanese baseball.”
Gray pitched in relief in each of the first two games in Japan, where, he said, high humidity has posed a challenge for the Americans.
He pitched a scoreless eighth inning on Saturday. Following a leadoff single he immediately got a double-play groundball. In the loss on Thursday, he recorded the final out for the Americans against the only batter he faced.
The Smyrna High School graduate has appeared in five of Team USA’s 13 games (second-most among pitchers). He has allowed four hits and one earned run in 9.2 innings (a 0.93 ERA) with 14 strikeouts and three walks.
“I feel like I am throwing fine it is just hard to stay in pitching shape doing all this traveling and not being able to get in a routine really,” he said.
Prior to their loss, the Americans were 11-0 and had outscored the opposition 127-27 in a series of exhibitions in North Carolina and New England.
Included in that stretch was an 18-1 victory over Guatemala on July 4 before a crowd of nearly 10,000 in Durham, N.C. Gray was the starting pitcher that day (his only start thus far) and allowed two hits and one run, struck out eight and walked three in 5.2 innings.
“It’s special to have the USA jersey on and it really became special on the Fourth of July when we had the crowd and the fireworks and … people singing ‘God Bless America’ and such,” he said. “I think (this) is a really, really good team. We can pitch hit and field all extremely well.
“I mean, when you have some of the best talent in the country your team is going to be good.”
The USA vs. Japan Collegiate All-Star Championship continues Monday (3 a.m., CDT) at the Tokyo Dome, concludes Thursday and will take the teams to four different cities throughout Japan.
Gray said the plan for him is to start on Tuesday at Sendai, Japan, unless he is needed in relief on Monday.
Next week, Team USA will compete at the World Baseball Challenge in British Columbia, Canada.