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Team USA looks to settle score in WBC '17 semis

Americans seek first final, while Japan eyes third championship
March 19, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Japan is next up for Team USA on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium in the penultimate game of the World Baseball Classic.The Netherlands will play Puerto Rico in the other semifinal on Monday, with the winners meeting in Wednesday night's clash for the championship. Japan is seeking

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Japan is next up for Team USA on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium in the penultimate game of the World Baseball Classic.
The Netherlands will play Puerto Rico in the other semifinal on Monday, with the winners meeting in Wednesday night's clash for the championship. Japan is seeking its third title in the first four Classics, and it has made it as far as at least the semifinals each time.
All three games are set for 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Japan played its final tune-up exhibition game on Sunday, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on a walk-off double by O'Koyea Dickson. The Japanese dropped games to the Cubs and Dodgers this weekend, and although they are a perfect 6-0 at this juncture of the tournament, it's not the way they want to go into a single-elimination game against the U.S.
Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark has been tabbed to pitch for Team USA, while Japan will be going with team ace Tomoyuki Sugano, a 27-year-old right-hander from the Yomiuri Giants.
"It should be a great game," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Any day with pitching, you just never know. Roark can be dominant. Those guys are going to run the bases, they're going to give you tough at-bats, they're going to play good defense. I'm sure they're going to bring out one of their top arms. So I expect it to be close."
The U.S. and Japan have faced off twice since the inception of the Classic in 2006, and they have split the two games. The U.S. beat Japan in a second-round game in '06. But the Americans have made it as far as the semifinals only once, and in '09, also at Dodger Stadium, they lost to Japan, 9-4.
The U.S. doesn't want a repeat of the error-filled 2009 game that came apart when Japan scored five times in the fourth inning against Roy Oswalt.
That team was managed by Davey Johnson, and there's not one coach or player left from the 2009 squad. Still, the sting of that loss remains.
"It hurts, because it's America's pastime and you want to win the whole thing," said Mark DeRosa, who filled in for the U.S. at first base in that game. "I don't know if it would have been a huge boost for fans across the U.S., but it would've been for us as players."
In the rematch, the U.S. might have its best chance.
Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics, defeating Cuba at Petco Park in 2006 and Korea after vanquishing the U.S. in '09. The Japanese travel like rock stars with hundreds of media types making the journey with them across the Pacific for these final games. Additionally, hundreds of fans surrounded their trio of buses on Sunday as the players boarded for the airport and the short flight to Los Angeles.
They are all usually well-rewarded.
Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka throttled the then mighty Cubans in the first two tournaments. Three years later, the Japanese paired Yu Darvish with Matsuzaka. At the end of the 2009 Classic, Ichiro Suzuki had the go-ahead two-run single against Korea in the top of the 10th of the championship game at Dodger Stadium.
That might have been the best international baseball game as Korea came from behind to tie its archrival with two out in the ninth off Darvish, only to lose in the 10th to the most famous player on two continents Japan has ever produced. Ichiro Suzuki has 4,308 hits and counting, 3,030 in the Majors and 1,278 of them during his nine seasons playing in Japan.
In 2013, the Japanese were eliminated in a semifinal game by Puerto Rico at AT&T Park. That was the glitch. The Dominican Republic ultimately defeated Puerto Rico to complete an 8-0 run through that tournament.

The U.S. eliminated the Dominicans on Saturday night in San Diego to emerge from the second round for only the second time. They are managed this year by Jim Leyland, who is utilizing a formidable team built around Adam Jones, Giancarlo Stanton and a host of other stars.

For the Japanese, their best player, Shohei Ohtani, a rare potent pitcher/designated hitter, couldn't participate because of a sore right ankle. He's back playing with his team, the defending Japan Leagues champion Nippon-Ham Fighters.
Japan's most notable player this time is Norichika Aoki, an outfielder who has played five seasons in the Major Leagues and is now with the Astros.
Aoki -- a .286 hitter with 88 stolen bases for Milwaukee, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle -- is a rare position player to make it this long in the U.S. The standouts, of course, are Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, the slugger who was MVP of the 2009 World Series when he batted .615 (8-for-13) with three homers and eight RBIs for the Yankees in their six-game victory over the Phillies.
Aoki made a highlight reel play in the fifth inning on Sunday with a turning one-handed catch as he sprinted toward the center-field fence on a drive by Yasmani Grandal with one out. The play didn't save the game, but it put Japan in position to win. And that's what its players do.
"You know, we're familiar with Aoki, we've seen him a lot before in right field," Roberts said. "He's a baseball player, a heck of player."
A heck of a Classic, Roberts could have easily added, with the best to come in the next three days.
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.