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U.S. to play Japan

Pitching is the difference as Japan tops Korea

Posted: March 20, 2009 1:41 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
SAN DIEGO — Now the United States knows what it’s up against — Japan’s pitching.

The defending World Baseball Classic champions defeated Korea Thursday night 6-2 at Petco Park in front of a paltry crowd of 14,832 to win Pool 1 of the World Baseball Classic.

Japan’s back-breaking three-run eighth inning was the difference.

Now Japan plays the United States, the Pool 2 runner-up, Sunday at Dodger Stadium in the semifinals.

Team USA may be the weakest team left in the final four, as injuries to Chipper Jones, Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis have left the squad short-handed.

Japan, on the other hand, is firing on all cylinders, but most notably from the mound.

But in the top of the seventh inning Thursday, Korean third baseman Bum Ho Lee parked a 2-0 offering from Japanese reliever Masahiro Tanaka over the center-field wall to tie Thursday’s game 2-2.

Yet Japan turned the tide back in the top of the eighth inning.

After back-to-back singles to lead off the inning, pinch-hitter Michihiro Ogasawara lined a single to right field to put Japan up 3-2.

After a sacrifice bunt, Tampa Bay Ray Akinori Iwamura chopped a single over a drawn-in infield, scoring two more runs.

Seven Japanese pitchers combined to limit Korea.

Japan has surrendered only nine runs in its seven Classic games.

But Korea jumped on Japan immediately with a leadoff single from Keun Woo Jeong off Japanese starter Tetsuya Utsumi.

Two batters later, Hyun Soo Kim knocked Jeong in with a double, giving the Koreans an early 1-0 lead.

The lead didn’t last.

In the top of the second inning, Japanese left fielder Seiichi Uchikawa hit a line-drive home run into the second deck in left field to tie the game.

After a pair of singles, No. 9 hitter Yasuyuki Kataoka knocked in Japan’s second run with a single.

On the mound, Japan’s Satoshi Komatsu was the most dominant.

Taking over for Utsumi, he went 2 2/3 innings, striking out five, surrendering no hits and one walk.

After Korea’s Taek Keun Lee advanced to third after a stolen base and throwing error by Japanese catcher Shinnosuke Abe in the fourth inning, Komatsu quelled a potential rally by striking out Min Ho Kang.

Korea will face Pool 2 winner Venezuela Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

The World Baseball Classic championship game is Monday night, also at Dodger Stadium.

cosborne@the-signal.com

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