Despite a different format for the second World Baseball Classic, the same team was left standing as at the end of the inaugural tourney three years earlier. Under a new double-elimination style for the first two rounds -- instead of a round-robin format -- Japan again emerged victorious and pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka claimed his second MVP honors.
Noted by its absence in the second round was the baseball-crazed Dominican Republic, which -- despite having stars like Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Pedro Martinez, Robinson Cano and David Ortiz -- fell twice to the Netherlands in the first round.
The United States fared better than in 2006, making it to the semifinals with a roster that included Derek Jeter, Ryan Braun and David Wright, but lost to Japan as Matsuzaka outpitched Roy Oswalt. In the other semifinal, South Korea defeated Miguel Cabrera and Venezuela, setting up a Far East rematch at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
After splitting the first four meetings over the tournament's opening two rounds, Japan had a 3-2 lead in the ninth when the Koreans scored a run off Yu Darvish to send the finale into extras. But Japan reclaimed the lead in the 10th on an Ichiro Suzuki two-run single, and Darvish came back out to shut down the Koreans to win it all, 5-3. Darvish recorded five strikeouts over two innings to pick up the title-clinching victory and raise his strikeout total to a tournament-best 20. Matsuzaka led all pitchers with three victories en route to his second straight tournament MVP Award.
Japan finished the '09 Classic with the best overall record at 7-2, with both losses coming at the hands of South Korea, whose 6-3 record included three losses to Japan.
After narrowly escaping the second round, Japan went on to win the inaugural World Baseball Classic by defeating Cuba in the finals at San Diego's Petco Park. Japan emerged from the round-robin format in the second round thanks to a tiebreaker (runs allowed per nine innings in head-to-head games) in Pool 1 after finishing with the same record as the United States and Mexico.
In the ensuing semifinals, Japan knocked off a previously undefeated South Korea squad, which had already beaten Japan twice in pool play. With the 6-0 loss, South Korea was eliminated with the tournament's best overall record at 6-1. Seung-Yeop Lee led all Classic participants with five homers, and his 10 RBIs tied USA's Ken Griffey Jr. for the most in the tourney.
In the other semifinal, Cuba eliminated a Dominican Republic team that included Albert Pujols, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre, but exited the Classic with the second-best overall record at 5-2. Cuba, led by Yadel Marti and Pedro Luis Lazo on the mound, advanced to the finals with a 3-1 victory just five days after it had lost to the Dominicans, 7-3, in a second-round game.
Japan raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of the finals, only to have Cuba slowly chip away at the lead and cut it to a one-run game entering the ninth. Japan duplicated its game-opening surge, posting another four-run frame in the ninth to put the game out of reach. Ichiro Suzuki scored three of Japan's runs. Daisuke Matsuzaka earned the title-clinching win to finish the tournament with a 3-0 record that garnered him MVP honors and helped lead to his joining the Red Sox prior to the '07 MLB season.