ANAHEIM -- The bell tolled for Team USA on Thursday night at Angel Stadium, ending the Americans' quest to win the championship of the inaugural World Baseball Classic.Even with Roger Clemens starting perhaps the last game of his illustrious career, one of the greatest assemblages of U.S.-born players ever bowed to archrival Mexico, 2-1, in the final game of the second round and was eliminated from the tournament. Instead Japan, which lost a scintillating one-run game to its archrival Korea on Wednesday night, joins Korea, Cuba and the Dominican Republic at San Diego's PETCO Park for the semifinals on Saturday. "For so long we have been the teachers [of baseball] around the world," said Team USA manager Buck Martinez, after Vernon Wells grounded into a double play with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth to end the American's chances. "Now I think there's something to be learned from teams like Korea and Japan: execution and work ethic." Japan will face Korea for the third time in the tournament and try to avenge two losses in the 10 p.m. ET nightcap Saturday. Cuba is slated to face the Dominicans at 3 p.m. ET. The winners face each other with the championship on the line at 9 p.m. ET on Monday. The U.S., Mexico and Japan all finished 1-2 in the second round, but Japan won the three-way tiebreaker by allowing five runs in one more inning than the five runs the U.S. allowed in head-to-head competition involving the three teams only. Had the Japanese not had that inning advantage, the U.S. would have gone to the semifinals by virtue of having beaten them in head-to-head competition, a 4-3 victory, which was America's only win of the round. "No excuses," Derek Jeter said. "Forget all our other games. We had a chance tonight. We couldn't capitalize on it. I don't like excuses." In the recent history of international play, the U.S. has struggled against Mexico with the last three elimination games ending in the same 2-1 score. In the 2003 Olympic Qualifying Event at Panama City, Panama, Luis A. Garcia, a member of the current Mexican team, homered off Brian Bruney in the top of the ninth inning and the U.S. stranded runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the inning. That 2-1 defeat eliminated the U.S. from the 2004 Summer Olympics. The U.S. won by that identical score in the 1999 Olympic Qualifier at Winnipeg, coming from behind in the ninth inning to tie and then winning in extra innings. The U.S. went on in 2000 at the Summer Olympics to defeat Cuba for its only baseball gold medal. Clemens stepped up and threw 73 pitches in his second start of the tournament, while whiffing four and allowing six hits over 4 1/3 innings. But Mexico scratched out single runs in both the third and fifth innings and the U.S. couldn't muster any more than Wells' fourth-inning sacrifice fly. Afterwards, Clemens didn't make his way to the interview room for the first time in the tournament, but issued a statement that he was "thankful for the opportunity to participate in this event." "I got to know a number of players from different teams," Clemens said. "They got to see the competitive part of my nature. And for me, right now, it's goodbye." It's adios for the U.S. as well. The Americans never really hit in the series. Save their first-round clinching, 17-0, victory over South Africa, they batted .238 and scored only 16 runs in the other five games, 10 of them on homers. Mark Teixeira, who started the last two games at first base instead of Derrek Lee, who was nursing a sore left shoulder, went 0-for-15 in the tournament. Alex Rodriguez had only one extra-base hit and three RBIs. Johnny Damon, who didn't start any of the games in this round because of a sore shoulder, finished 1-for-7 with one double and no RBIs. "We thought we had put together the team fairly effectively with the combination of players," Martinez said. "We went through a streak where we just didn't hit." The U.S. got its breaks, though. Umpire Bob Davidson, covering first base on Thursday night, was spared the wrath of another disputed call after Mario Valenzuela opened the third inning with a double, but later came around to score the game's first run on Jorge Cantu's single. Valenzuela hit a high drive off Clemens into the right-field corner that television replays clearly indicated hit 10 feet above the wall off the front of the foul pole and bounced back on to the field. Instead of indicating a homer, Davidson signaled that the ball was in play and Valenzuela had to stop at second to the protests of the bench and Mexico manager Paquin Estrada. "For me and everyone else it was a home run," Estrada said. "The only ones who didn't think it was a home run were the umpires." Jeter had a gleam in his eye when he was asked where the ball hit: "Off the wall," he said. Davidson was the key figure in Sunday's U.S. victory over Japan when he overturned a colleague's safe signal and called Japan's Tsuyoshi Nishioka out for leaving third base too early on a sacrifice fly, thus negating what would have been Japan's fourth run. Replays of that play seemed to indicate that Nishioka didn't leave the base before left fielder Randy Winn caught Akinori Iwamura's fly ball. But the U.S. lost, 7-3, to Korea on Monday and couldn't take advantage of Japan's 2-1 loss to the same team two days later. "This is really a big disappointment for us," Rodriguez said. "We really came into this game with a lot of confidence. We felt like we should have played well and dominated this game. But that's baseball. You can't predict the outcome and you can't predict what's going to happen."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.