Sayonara! US ousted by Japan in WBC semis

LOS ANGELES — Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt and the rest of Team USA can get back to preparing for the start of the major league baseball season.

They won't be playing for the World Baseball Classic championship.

The Americans lost to defending champion Japan 9-4 in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium on a cold, blustery Sunday night, getting sent home early for the second straight time in the WBC.

"It's a disappointment to all of us," Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Fame manager and WBC global ambassador, said from his seat behind home plate. "It's sad when you see two other teams playing tomorrow."

Japan takes on South Korea, a 10-2 winner over Venezuela in Saturday's semifinal, in Monday night's title game. Japan won the inaugural tournament in 2006, defeating Cuba in the final.

"I feel like it's the one game of the century and Japan would like, as a team, to do the best that we can," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said through a translator.

Japan was easily the better team on the Americans' home turf.

Akinori Iwamura's RBI triple was the key hit in a five-run fourth inning against Oswalt, Daisuke Matsuzaka remained undefeated in WBC play, and the U.S. 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.

"The United States is where baseball was born and I really respect American baseball," Hara said. "The fact that we won is something that, even for the Japanese baseball world, it is something that will remain in history."

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

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

"Can you believe this? Look at the score. I feel so bad about this," Lasorda said. "We had high hopes. This is the second time we were supposed to win. We taught these people the game."

Led by Matsuzaka, and four other major leaguers, the Japanese showed they have learned the game well.

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 6-0 in his career in the WBC with a 1.95 ERA. He has allowed six runs on 22 hits in 27 2-3 innings, with 23 strikeouts and eight walks. He was named tournament MVP in 2006.

"Compared to the Cuba game, I believe that the control of the slider was not as good," catcher Kenji Johjima said. "What I think is good about him is if one ball is not good, one pitch, even when that ball is not good, he would not give up."

Oswalt gave up six runs and six hits in 3 2-3 innings. He walked four and struck out one. The Houston Astros right-hander was 1-1 in three WBC starts, allowing nine runs, seven earned, in 11 1-3 innings.

"Some of our pitchers aren't as far along as some of the Japanese pitchers," said U.S. manager Davey Johnson, who played in Japan in the mid-1970s. "When I was in Japan, spring training started January 1. It's a lot of practice. It does give them a head start when you play them in March, but I thought our guys played well."

The United States took a 2-1 lead after three innings on Brian Roberts' leadoff homer in the first and David Wright's RBI double in the third.

Japan broke loose in the fourth, with the help of an error by Roberts at second base that made two of the runs unearned.

Atsunori Inaba and Michihiro Ogasawara opened the inning with singles and Roberts' error allowed Japan to tie it at 2. Johjima followed with his second sacrifice fly before Iwamura tripled into the right-field corner.

Munenori Kawasaki then singled home Iwamura. One out later, Hiroyuki Nakajima hit an RBI double on a 3-0 pitch, chasing Oswalt and giving Japan a 6-2 lead.

"We didn't play as well defensively," Johnson said. "We made it a ballgame through seven innings, and made some mistakes, walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth, and that's not the way you win ballgames."

The U.S. got back in the game in the eighth on a two-run double down the left-field line by Mark DeRosa off Takahiro Mahara, cutting the deficit to 6-4. Mahara avoided further damage by striking out pinch-hitter Evan Longoria and getting Roberts to ground back to the mound.

Japan tacked on three more runs in the bottom half off Joel Hanrahan and Scot Shields. The first scored on shortstop Derek Jeter's two-out throwing error. Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI single, and Nakajima had a run-scoring double that right fielder Adam Dunn appeared to lose in the lights.

Rollins went 4-for-4 with a walk and a two-out triple in the seventh.

"We had a lot of fun being an underdog, knowing that we were at somewhat of a disadvantage as far as having time to prepare," he said. "It shows the support and passion these other countries have for baseball. In America, we have many sports, so our attention is at whichever sport season is going on."

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