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Chang helps China stun Brazil, earn '17 berth

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FUKUOKA, Japan -- If baseball ever evolves into a major sport in China, the nation's future ballplayers won't ever stop telling stories about Ray Chang.

Chang was the hero of China's first World Baseball Classic win back in 2009, and he delivered an encore performance in China's final game in the 2013 Classic with a go-ahead, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning that propelled the Chinese to a 5-2 win over Brazil on Tuesday at Fukuoka's Yafuoku Dome.

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"Everybody on our team deserved to be up here," Chang said during the postgame news conference. "Everybody has a role in this game, and everybody did their job. Starting pitcher Bu Tao did one heck of a job, and [so did] all of the relievers."

The victory gives China an automatic berth in the 2017 Classic. Brazil will be forced to go through the qualifying process, the same route it took to the Classic this year.

"It's just a great feeling," China manager John McLaren said. "I've worked with these kids since September in 2011, and just how far we've come is incredible. [Past China managers] Jim Lefebvre and Terry Collins started this, with the help of Bruce Hurst, Art Howe and our Chinese coaches. It's been a nice ride. I congratulated the team, and I told them to go home and tell everybody in China what a great feeling it is to play baseball and spread the word."

Brazil couldn't hang on to an eighth-inning lead in a loss to Japan in its first game, and the eighth haunted the Brazilians again in their final game.

"That eighth inning, we had a two-run lead," Brazil manager Barry Larkin said. "Should've been much more than a two-run lead. We obviously are disappointed in the result of the game. I think we could've done a better job of execution today. But certainly in the eighth inning we completely fell apart."

Brazil jumped out to an early lead on a second-inning RBI single off the bat of Juan Carlos Ruiz, and went ahead 2-0 on an RBI groundout by Diego Franca in the seventh.

China's Weiqiang Meng singled to begin the eighth, with his team trailing 2-0. The next batter, Yangyong Yang, struck out, but Xiao Cui and Xu An drew walks to load the bases.

Lei Li drew a bases loaded walk which made the score 2-1, then Chang hit a single that scored two and gave China a 3-2 lead.

"No doubt, that was the biggest hit of my life," Chang said. "I've played seven or eight years of professional baseball. I've had some clutch hits in my career, but nothing like this. This is not just for a Single-A, Double-A team. This is for an entire country."

Brazil finally got another out when Fujiya Chu hit into a fielder's choice. The bases were loaded again when Wei Wang was hit with a pitch, and Zhenhong Lu and Meng drew consecutive walks to make the score 5-2.

"We were a different baseball team in the eighth inning," McLaren said. "I've never seen enthusiasm in the dugout like that. There was cheerleading, there were chants going on, and the guys, they stepped up. They did things that we really don't do that well, and they did them well."

Brazil, on the other hand, couldn't do anything right in the eighth, walking five and hitting a batter.

"Pitching just fell apart, and that happens," Larkin said. "But earlier in the ballgame, we had opportunities to lessen to load on our pitchers and get a more substantial lead, but we just didn't do that."

Chang was at the center of a Chinese celebration for the second straight Classic. He fueled China's first-ever Classic victory, a 4-1 win over Chinese Taipei in 2009, by homering and driving in two runs.

Chang, wasn't ready to say which win was bigger, but made sure to mention they were "team wins."

"They both were big games for the country," Chang said. You can't really say one was bigger than the other. This was just now. It seems a lot bigger now, just because it's in the moment."

Jiangang Lu allowed a hit and struck out two in 2 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win in relief.

McLaren said prior to the game he'd worked throughout the tournament to line his pitching for the game against Brazil. His efforts were rewarded with solid outings by starter Bu, Lu and Qingyuan Meng.

"I think it's always extra special when you have a game plan and the game plan actually works its way through all the way," McLaren said.

Bu kept China in the game early with five innings of one-run ball, striking out two and allowing a pair of hits.

"He did a marvelous job for us," McLaren said. "To be honest, he wasn't the original starter. He was originally going to start against Japan. We made some adjustments. We thought he was better suited to handle this game, and he did.

Murilo Gouvea was charged with the loss after allowing three earned runs in 3 1/3 innings on the mound.

The win means China moves forward with its spot in the 2017 Classic assured and Chang is hoping to be apart of another win a few years down the line.

"I hope they ask me back," he said. "I would be honored and blessed to play for team China once again."

He probably doesn't have anything to worry about.

"Ray, I'm sure you're going to be on the team, you've won the last two," McLaren joked. "I don't know about me, but I'm pretty sure you're a lock."

Jason Coskrey is a contributor to

China, Brazil