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US unable to overcome big innings

Japan scores five in fourth, three in eighth to reach the finals of the World Baseball Classic

Posted: March 23, 2009 1:36 a.m.
Updated: March 23, 2009 4:54 a.m.
LOS ANGELES - Beaten-down, undermanned, gutsy, whatever you want to call Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, add one more term to it - done.

Despite a late rally, the United States couldn't undo Japan's fourth-inning death knell and fell to the Japanese 9-4 in the WBC semifinals at Dodger Stadium Sunday night in front of 43,630.

Japan sent nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the fourth, scoring five runs.

It added three insurance runs in the eighth.

"We made a comeback, but when they had an answer, they had an answer with the three runs in the eighth," said Team USA manager Davey Johnson.

The defending World Baseball Classic champions will now play rival and 2008 Olympic gold medalists Korea tonight at 6:30 at Dodger Stadium in the championship game.

The teams have played four times in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, splitting the games.

The U.S. had its opportunities Sunday, but stranded runners in scoring position in the third, fifth and seventh innings.

Yet Mark DeRosa's two-RBI double into the left-field corner in the top of the eighth cut Japan's lead to 6-4.

He took third on an error and put Team USA in position to add more.

But pinch-hitter Evan Longoria struck out, then Brian Roberts grounded out, ending the rally.

Ichiro Suzuki's RBI single in the eighth, highlighted a three-run inning for the Japanese.

Team USA shortstop Derek Jeter's high-throw error extended the inning, allowing Japan to score the three runs.

Probably not the best team the United States could have fielded for the classic, as some American stars decided not to play and injuries further pared the club down, Team USA did throw out Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt.

But the hard-throwing right-hander couldn't shoulder the load.

Armed with a 2-1 lead, things fell apart for Oswalt in the fourth inning.

Back-to-back singles to lead off the inning shook Team USA's starter, but an error by Roberts at second base opened the floodgates.

The error on a Kosuke Fukudome grounder tied the game 2-2.

Kenji Johjima then knocked in his second run of the game via the sacrifice fly.

Akinori Iwamura tripled in another run, then a single by Munenori Kawasaki plated Japan's fifth run of the game.

Two batters later, Oswalt was chased by a Hiroyuki Nakajima RBI-double that gave Japan a 6-2 advantage.

After the five-run fourth, the United States got two on base in the fifth with one out, but back-to-back strikeouts of David Wright and Adam Dunn quieted the noise.

Jimmy Rollins was left stranded on third base twice in the game.

Rollins was 4-for-4, reaching base in all five of his plate appearances.

"They were fundamentally sound," Rollins said of Japan. "They took advantage of mistakes and didn't try and hit the ball out of the ballpark. They play with passion and wear it on their sleeve."

Roberts led off the game, slaughtering Daisuke Matsuzaka's second offering over the center field wall to give Team USA the early 1-0 lead.

But Japan got its own run in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly by Johjima.

In the third inning, Wright cashed in USA's second run with a line double to right-center field.

Matsuzaka continued to play with fire in the inning, facing a two-on two-out jam, but with his 65th pitch, struck out Ryan Braun.

In typical nibble and strain fashion, Matsuzaka threw 98 pitches, but kept his team in the game.

He went 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, three walks, two runs and struck out four.


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