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Japan drubs South Korea, China springs surprise

HOLDER Japan overwhelmed Olympic champion South Korea 14-2 yesterday to become the first team to reach the second round of the World Baseball Classic.

Ichiro Suzuki broke out of his recent slump while Shuichi Murata and Kenji Johjima smashed home runs before the game was ended on the mercy rule after seven innings at Tokyo Dome.

Japan's leadoff batter Suzuki ignited a three-run first innings with a line-drive single to deafening roars from a crowd of 45,000.

South Korea responded immediately with a towering two-run shot into the left field seats from Kim Tae-kyun, who pumped his fists and roared in delight as the ball sailed over the fence.

However, Japan let rip in the second with a five-run outburst to break the game open, capped by a three-run homer from third baseman Murata, going deep for the second game running.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, tournament MVP in Japan's 2006 triumph at the inaugural WBC, recovered from a shaky start to keep Korea's big guns in check through four innings.

Catcher Johjima's two-run homer in the sixth gave Japan an 11-run lead over last year's Beijing Olympic gold medalist before the game was called with Korea never threatening to rally.

Japan had beaten China 4-0 in the curtain-raiser for the 16-team tournament on Thursday, while the Koreans crushed Chinese Taipei 9-0 in their opening game.

China eliminated Chinese Taipei with an upset 4-1 win earlier yesterday.

Hou Fenglian got China on the board in the first inning, scoring on a sacrifice fly from Feng Fei, before a Hou single and a double from American-born Raymond Chang made it 3-0 in the fifth.

Peng Cheng-min pulled one run back but Chang, a Double-A shortstop in the Pittsburgh Pirates chain, belted a solo home run in the eighth to restore China's three-run lead.


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