Ichiro Suzuki has hit at a .331 clip in eight major league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, but took a measly .211 average into the final game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
In the end, the only numbers that mattered were the four hits Ichiro delivered from the leadoff position and the five runs he helped Japan post in a 5-3, 10-inning win over South Korea on Monday night at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Japan successfully defended its title from the 2006 WBC, out-hitting Korea 15-5 for its third victory in five meetings against its biggest rival at this year's tourney.
The Japanese won the inaugural tournament three years ago, beating Cuba 10-6 in the finals at Petco Park in San Diego.
Japan and Korea have split 16 games since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with the former holding a 43-38 edge in runs scored.
"I felt like we could have scored more, but it was difficult for us to earn runs with the Korean defence," Japanese manager Tatsunori Hara said through a translator.
With two out in the top of the 10th inning on Monday, Ichiro took losing pitcher Chang Yong Lim's eighth pitch of the at-bat, an 85-mile-per-hour split fastball, up the middle to score Seiichi Uchikawa and Akinori Iwamura to snap a 3-3 tie.
Ichiro went 4-for-6 on the night and raised his average to .280 for the tournament after he entered Monday's contest with just eight hits and three runs batted in over his previous 38 at-bats.
Japanese phenom Yu Darvish was credited with the victory, his first of the tournament, despite the fact he blew his team's 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.
With Korea down to its last out, Bum Ho Lee pulled a 1-1 slider from Darvish through the left side of the infield to score Jong Wook Lee with the tying run.
'We kept coming back'
Darvish walked three batters in two innings of work but struck out five, including Keun-Woo Jeong to end the four-hour game in the bottom of the 10th with Min-ho Kang standing at first base.
"Although there is regret, we did our best," South Korean manager Kim In-sik said through an interpreter. "I myself have no dissatisfaction. We kept coming back."
Darvish also put a temporary damper on a memorable performance by Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma.
The six-foot-three-inch right-hander turned in the longest outing of any pitcher at this year's tournament, limiting South Korea to four hits and two runs over 7 2/3 innings.
Iwakuma nearly avenged a 1-0 loss to Korea on March 9 in Tokyo, retiring the first 11 batters, allowing four hits and striking out six in a 97-pitch outing — three shy of the maximum.
He was lifted with two out in the eighth inning after pinch hitter Dae Ho Lee's sacrifice fly cut the Japanese lead to 3-2 before a WBC record crowd of 54,846.
Starter not as sharp
Iwakuma's only other blemish was a solo home run by Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to open the bottom of the fifth inning that tied the game 1-1.
Korean starter Jung Keun Bong, who blanked Japan over 5 1/3 innings to earn the victory on March 9, wasn't as sharp in his team's most important game of the WBC.
He exited Monday's contest after allowing a walk and single to open the top of the fifth. The former Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds lefty gave up an unearned run on six hits and walked three.
Japan, which left 14 men on base for the game and struggled with runners in scoring position, broke open a 1-1 game with single runs in the seventh and eighth inning.
The two-time WBC champions opened the scoring in the third frame when Michihiro Ogasawara's one-out single plated Hiroyuki Nakajima.
Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitches for the Boston Red Sox, was named most valuable player of this WBC after going 3-0 with a 2.45 earned-run average in 14 2/3 innings over three starts.