Japan win over Mexico puts U.S. on elimination brink

Updated: March 15, 2006, 11:56 PM ET
Associated Press

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Team USA will be cheering for Korea to beat Japan on Wednesday night. U.S. hopes of winning the inaugural World Baseball Classic could disappear if the Japanese prevail.

Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed one hit in five shutout innings, and Japan beat Mexico 6-1 on Tuesday in the second round of the WBC, putting the United States in danger of being eliminated before its next game.

Korea (2-0) can earn a berth in the semifinals by beating Japan (1-1). If that happens, the United States (1-1) would also make it by beating Mexico (0-2) on Thursday.

But if Japan beats Korea, the Americans could be eliminated from contention even before playing Mexico. That would happen if Japan wins in a nine-inning game and scores seven runs or less because of the complicated tiebreaker system being employed.

That kind of outcome is a distinct possibility, since Japan has allowed only 13 runs in five WBC games; Korea has given up seven.

"That's the way it is -- we created it ourselves," U.S. manager Buck Martinez said about his team's sticky situation. "That's the unique aspect of this. Now, it's up to Korea and Japan."

The semifinals will be played Saturday and the final Monday in San Diego.

Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh said he wouldn't gain any special satisfaction in eliminating the Americans in the wake of Team USA's controversial 4-3 victory over his team Sunday.

"If we can win, there won't be any problem, we'll be happy with that," Oh said through an interpreter. "What happened happened. It's already in the past. It's done. So it's over. So what we're looking at is in the future."

Japan appeared to score the go-ahead run in the eighth inning against Team USA on a one-out, bases-loaded sacrifice fly, but umpire Bob Davidson ruled the runner left third base before the catch was made. A television replay appeared to indicate otherwise. The Americans scored the winning run in the ninth.

Matsuzaka walked two, struck out two, and threw 73 pitches in his second exceptional performance of the WBC. He allowed three hits and one run in four innings in a 13-3 first-round victory over Chinese Taipei.

"His pitching was his best performance I've seen in the Classic," said Japanese catcher Tomoya Satozaki, who had three hits, including a two-run homer. "He pitched very effortless. His fastball was very powerful. I told him to throw fastballs. I wasn't worried whether the Mexican team could hit them. I didn't think they could."

Matsuzaka said he began preseason preparations early because of the Classic.

"This time of the year, usually we're not perfect yet," he said. "I tried to push it early a little bit, I tried to adjust. It's not really a psychological issue. I was expecting this. Tomorrow, we will try our best to succeed. We cannot lose anymore."

Satozaki homered off Esteban Loaiza to cap a four-run rally in the fourth that provided Japan with all the offense it would need.

Miguel Ojeda led off the eighth by hitting a solo homer off Yasuhiko Yabuta for Mexico's only run.

Ichiro Suzuki added an RBI single -- his second hit of the game -- in the ninth off Luis Ayala to complete the scoring.

The game was played before an announced crowd of 16,591 at Angel Stadium.

Because of the tiebreaker system, it would take a low-scoring, extra-inning win against the United States for Mexico to possibly reach the semifinals. And that could only happen if Korea beats Japan, leaving the possibility of three teams finishing Round 2 with 1-2 records.

"We still have one game to go and we're going to try very hard," Mexico manager Paquin Estrada said. "We're going to try and finish it like we should."

Loaiza, who signed as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics during the offseason, allowed seven hits and four runs in four innings. He threw 75 pitches.

"My pitching wasn't always in the strike zone. I never thought that would happen," Loaiza said. "It's too bad it couldn't have been like in Phoenix."

Loaiza allowed three hits and one run in a five-inning outing last week.

Jorge Cantu's first-inning single was the only hit off Matsuzaka. Juan Castro greeted Tsuyoshi Wada with a single to open the sixth, but Wada retired the next six batters.

Akinori Otsuka worked a scoreless ninth for Japan, with Luis Alfonso Garcia grounding into a game-ending double play. Mexico never sent more than four batters to the plate in an inning, and it stranded only four runners.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press