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Japan storms into WBC final

BASEBALL-MAD Japanese celebrated outside electronic stores and at work yesterday morning after Japan crushed the United States to reach the final of the World Baseball Classic.

Japan, the defending champion, won the semifinal 9-4 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, putting the team in the title game against Asian rival South Korea, the Olympic gold medalist.

"They've come this far. I want to see Japan win it all," said Mayuko Daikuhara, a 34-year-old company employee, who joined more than a hundred fans in watching the game on a wall of plasma and LCD TVs at a Tokyo electronics store.

In a nation that considers baseball its national sport, fans in business suits clapped and cheered as Japan handily dispatched the US yesterday morning local time behind the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who remained undefeated in the WBC.

"Can you believe this? Look at the score. I feel so bad about this," Tom Lasorda, Hall of Fame manager and WBC global ambassador, said from his seat behind home plate in Los Angeles.

"I'm very, very disappointed. We had high hopes. This is the second time we were supposed to win. We taught these people the game."

Instead, Japan gave the lessons on American soil.

Matsuzaka sent his country into today's title game against South Korea, a 10-2 winner over Venezuela in Saturday's semifinal. Japan won the inaugural tournament in 2006, defeating Cuba in the final.

Akinori Iwamura's RBI triple was the key hit in a five-run fourth inning against starter Roy Oswalt, and the US absorbed its first loss to Japan in major international play since the 2005 World Cup. The Americans had won four in a row, including an 8-4 victory in the bronze medal game at the Beijing Olympics.

"We didn't play as well defensively," US manager Davey Johnson said.

The WBC has hardly been a showcase for the US, despite a roster loaded with major league stars.

Three years ago, the Americans were eliminated 1-2 by Mexico in the second round of the tournament after beating Japan 4-3 during pool play in Anaheim.

"I have no thoughts whatsoever that I have surpassed them," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said through a translator. "But the American baseball team came to recognize the Japanese team. To some extent, that is something I believe is the result of this."

Matsuzaka allowed two runs and five hits in 4 2/3 innings. The Boston Red Sox right-hander struck out four and walked three before being pulled when he reached 98 pitches, two shy of the 100-limit for the tournament's final two rounds.

Matsuzaka, who pitched six shutout innings against Cuba last Sunday, is 3-0 in this year's WBC, having allowed 14 hits and four runs in 14 2/3 innings. He went 3-0 and was selected tournament MVP three years ago.

Oswalt gave up six runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out one.


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