After falling to Japan in the World Baseball Classic semifinals in 2009, Team USA exacted some revenge Tuesday with a 2-1 win to advance to its first WBC title game.
Long lauded for its fundamental play, it was Japan’s lack of execution on defense that helped the US score both runs.
Rebounding from a poor outing against the Dominican Republic on Mar. 11, starter Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings and combined with six relievers to limit the undefeated Japanese team to one run on four hits.
The Japanese staff matched its American counterpart pitch for pitch, led by starter Tomoyuki Sugano. He struck out six and only allowed an unearned run in six innings, and reliever Kodai Senga struck out five in two innings.
Wednesday night’s winner-take-all championship game will be a rematch of last Friday’s game between Team USA’s Marcus Stroman and Puerto Rico’s Seth Lugo. Puerto Rico held on for a 6-5 win and won Pool F.
At rainy Dodger Stadium, the US got off to a better start than its final two games in San Diego. After allowing a combined six first-inning runs against Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the Americans got what they were looking for from Roark. He hit the leadoff batter but kept Japan off the scoreboard.
Neither team’s offense posed much of a threat through the first three innings, but in the fourth, Team USA took advantage of the opportunity gifted to it by Japan. Christian Yelich reached base and advanced to second on an error by second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi, and Sugano walked Eric Hosmer despite starting the first baseman with an 0-2 count. After Andrew McCutchen cashed in with an RBI single, an athletic, inning-ending catch from shortstop Hayato Sakamoto prevented any further damage.
Manager Jim Leyland summoned his bullpen after Roark completed four innings, and Nate Jones retired the side in order in the fifth. An inning later, however, Kikuchi’s deep fly ball to right just eluded a leaping McCutchen at the wall, and the solo home run tied the game.
There was no dropoff when Sugano exited the game after six innings. Senga struck out the side in the seventh, and he started the eighth with a punchout of Giancarlo Stanton. Brandon Crawford followed with a single that ended that streak, and Ian Kinsler’s double to the wall in left-center gave the US a chance to go back in front.
With the infield drawn in, Adam Jones grounded a ball to Nobuhiro Matsuda at third base. Running on contact, Crawford was able to score when Matsuda was unable to field the ball cleanly and had to settle for the out at first as Team USA went up 2-1.
Mark Melancon, a late addition to the roster thanks to the designated pitcher pool, allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Seiichi Uchikawa. He was promptly removed for pinch-runner Kosuke Tanaka, and like it did when its leadoff hitter reached in the first inning, Japan bunted the runner into scoring position. A two-out walk led to another pitching change, and Pat Neshek got Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh to fly out to right to end the inning.
Unlike the eighth, there was no drama when Luke Gregerson entered to record the save. He needed just seven pitches to record three outs, including a strikeout of Matsuda to end the game.