Nobody paid much attention to Chris Cardone before Saturday.
But the little outfielder, who was 1-for-10 coming into the biggest game of his 12-year-old life, stole the spotlight, hitting home runs in consecutive at-bats -- including a game-deciding two-run shot -- as Toms River, N.J., won its first Little League World Series with a 12-9 victory over Kashima, Japan.
"It was a curve ball. When it hit the bat, I knew it was gone," Cardone said of the game-winner.
"Timing's a beautiful thing," said Toms River manager Mike Gaynor, whose team went 1-2 in the 1995 World Series. "He just came through for us today."
But Cardone's heroics wouldn't have mattered without Todd Frazier, who launched the third pitch of the game into the left field hill. He finished the game by holding the Japanese to two hits in the final two innings and striking out the last batter to end a slugfest in which 11 balls cleared the fences -- three solo shots by Kashima's Tetsuya Furukawa and two by Taysuya Sugata.
Frazier's teammates leaped on top of him as the crowd full of New Jerseyans celebrated wildly, then the players waved their hats during a victory lap.
"I was really scared because their hitters were coming up and I thought they were going to hit one off me, but I pitched it low and they didn't," Frazier said, holding his home run ball.
In the final inning, he held Furukawa to a single and struck out Sugata. Frazier went 4-for-4 and finished the series with a .600 average and four homers. He won two games and gave up only three runs in eight innings.
Sayaka Tsushima, the sixth girl to play in a World Series and the first from a Far East champion, was the first girl to play in a final. She went 0-for-3.
Scott Fisher and Casy Gaynor also homered for Toms River, who scrummed at home plate after each of their five home runs.
Toms River, which finished 5-0,
| Members of the East team celebrate their 12-9 victory against the Far East in Little League World Series championship. (AP) |
For Mike Gaynor, it was doubly special: He felt the disappointment when his son, Colin, and the 1995 team won just one game. This time, he saw his son hit a homer, win a game on the mound and leave a champion.
"For anybody to get here is difficult," Gaynor said. "And to have two ..."
Toms River, after twice surrendering leads, scored four runs in the sixth inning as Cardone broke out his 1-for-10 slump. Gabe Gardner, whose two fifth-inning errors helped Japan tie the game at 8, drove in two runs with a single to make it 12-8.
"I thought that if we could hold them to two or three home runs, we could have a chance in the game," said Atsushi Ohkawa, Kashima's manager. "We had quite a few homers and some good hitting, but just did not have the men on base."
After surrendering a 3-0 first-inning lead, Toms River went ahead 8-4 on two-run homers by Fisher and Gaynor in the fourth inning and Cardone's pinch-hit shot in the fifth.
He hadn't hit a home run in tournament play and it showed: He had to back track to make sure he touched second base. "I just took it easy," he said.
As they had all day, the Japanese came back behind the second of Furukawa and Sagata's consecutive homers in the fifth inning. Gardner's errors allowed a third run to score, and a passed ball on Frazier's first pitch in relief tied the game 8-8.
Frazier's homer came on Sugata's third pitch of the game. Gaynor's single drove in a second run, but Sugata -- who gave up three runs on three hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning -- answered with a homer in the bottom of the inning.
Masahiro Kuribayashi also homered for Kashima.
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