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Japan whips Cuba to race into semis

WORLD Baseball Classic champion Japan advanced to the semifinals with a 5-0 win over Cuba on Wednesday that eliminated the Caribbean power and consigned them to their worst finish in more than 50 years.

Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma held the Cubans scoreless over six innings, where he scattered five hits. "I was trying to keep the ball down. I was more interested in getting them to drive the ball into the ground than getting strike outs," Iwakuma said.

Cuban centre fielder Yoennis Cespedes' error in the top of the fourth when he dropped a flyball from infielder Michihiro Ogasawara allowed two runs to score and proved costly for the Cubans.

The error, caused when the ball bounced out of Cespedes' glove, hit him on the head and dropped to the ground, allowed Norichaka Aoki and Atsunori Inaba to score and drove Cuban starter Yunieski Maya from the game. Japan added another run in the fifth after two walks and an RBI single from Norichaka Aoki, who had four hits in the game and drove in two runs.

Japan added its fourth run in the seventh before Ichiro Suzuki, who had been in a batting slump throughout most of the second round, scored the final run after hitting a one-out triple in the top of the ninth.

Cuba, the runner up to Japan at the inaugural WBC in 2006, and last year's Olympic silver medalists, had not finished lower than third in 70 years of international baseball tournaments. The worst it had done during that span were third place finishes in the IBAF World Cup in 1944 and 1951.

"This was a very meaningful event for our team and it's something that will go down in the history of Japanese baseball," Japanese manager Tatsunori Hara said.

In a battle that will determine the match-ups in the semifinals, Venezuela beat the United States 10-6 in Miami to win the other pool. Both advanced to the semifinals.

The US first baseman Adam Dunn made a wild throw that led to four unearned runs. Max Ramirez had a three-run homer for Venezuela, which finished with 15 hits.


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