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Korea beats Japan, clinches semis; US still alive

3/16/2006 - MLB

RECAP | BOX SCORE

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Team USA still has a chance to win the
World Baseball Classic thanks to Korea.

Now, it's up to Roger Clemens and his teammates to take
advantage of the opportunity.

Chan Ho Park and four relievers combined to pitch a six-hitter,
Jong Beom Lee hit a two-run double in the eighth, and Korea
beat Japan 2-1 Wednesday night to clinch a berth in the semifinals
of the inaugural WBC.

The Americans, who would have been eliminated with a low-scoring
win by Japan, can wrap up the other semifinal berth in Group One on
Thursday with Clemens on the mound by beating Mexico.

"I'll tell you what, I don't know that I've ever been as
nervous watching a baseball game as I was in this one," Team USA
manager Buck Martinez said. "What a great game that was. It's a
big relief, obviously. We were all very anxious for this game
tonight. Japan is a very good baseball team.

"It was a well-played game, both teams showed tremendous
hearts. There were great defensive plays and key pitching."

Martinez said there's no better big-game pitcher in baseball
than Clemens, the 43-year-old right-hander who might be pitching
his final game.

"The other night when we were playing Korea, Roger was studying
the Mexican hitters' hitting charts," Martinez said. "He is into
it. We certainly hope to give him some run support and let him do
his thing."

Clemens, who has won 341 games in his big league career, has
said he's leaning toward retirement after the Classic.

Korea went 3-0 in Round 2; the United States is 1-1, Japan
finished 1-2, and Mexico is 0-2. The Americans beat Mexico 2-0 in
the first round last week.

Korea and Japan were scoreless when Min Jae Kim drew a
one-out walk in the eighth off Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Byung Kyu Lee
followed with a single. Center fielder Tatsuhiko Kinjoh's throw to
third arrived ahead of Kim, but Toshiaki Imae juggled the ball, and
Lee took second on the play. Imae wasn't charged with an error.

Kyuji Fugikawa relieved, and Jong Beom Lee lined a 2-1 pitch to
the left-center field gap. Lee raised his fists in triumph as the
ball dropped in, but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit
into a triple.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka homered off Dae Sung Koo to begin the bottom
of the ninth for Japan's only run. Noguhiko Matsunaka hit a one-out
single before Seung Kwan Oh struck out the next two batters to end
the game.

Korea beat Japan 3-2 in first-round action last week in
Tokyo.

"I think we are as good as they are, but we lost," Nishioka
said through a translator. "We just have to face that Korea is a
good team.

"We have to see how the U.S. does. We still have a chance."

The game was played before an announced crowd of 39,679 at Angel
Stadium, with most of the fans pulling for Korea. They
chanted and banged their blue and white Thunderstix, often cheered
even when a Korean hit a foul ball, and booed
enthusiastically every time Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki came to the
plate.

When the game was over, with the crowd waving Korean
flags, the winners took a victory lap around the stadium.

"I was aware of the fact that there were a lot of Koreans
living in this area," Jong Beom Lee said. "I didn't know there
were that many. I was very touched by their cheering.

"I'm very happy that we beat Japan and we will work much harder
to be in the finals."

The semifinals will be played Saturday and the finals Monday at
Petco Park in San Diego. The Dominican Republic and Cuba are the
semifinalists from Group Two.

Park went five innings, allowing four hits while walking none
and striking out three. The San Diego Padres' right-hander threw 66
pitches, 50 of them strikes.

Japan's Shunsuke Watanabe was even better, going six innings and
giving up only one hit with two walks and three strikeouts.
Watanabe, a 29-year-old right-hander with a submarine delivery,
threw 74 pitches, 46 of them strikes, and retired the last 13
batters he faced.

Korea put two runners aboard with two outs in the second,
but Watanabe struck out Min Jae Kim to end the inning. Korea
wouldn't get another baserunner until the seventh.

Korean right fielder Jin Young Lee made a perfect throw to
nail Akinori Iwamura trying to score from second on Tomoya
Satozaki's two-out single in the bottom of the inning.

Iwamura left the game at that stage because of pain in his right
hamstring, a spokeswoman for the Japanese team said, adding the
injury wasn't serious. Iwamura was replaced by Imae.

"We gave everything we had," Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh
said. "All the games were hard-fought games. It was also showing
that our lineup had trouble scoring runs against real tough
pitching."