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03/23/09 1:53 AM ET
On home soil, USA ousted by Japan
Americans' Classic adventure ends in semifinal loss in LA
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Team USA took it into the semifinal of the World Baseball Classic on Sunday night, but any dream of winning the championship died in a plethora of fielding errors and missed offensive chances. The pitching wasn't very sharp, either. The result on a chilly and windy March evening was a resounding 9-4 loss to Japan, which moved on to the final for the second successive Classic. It will defend its 2006 title against rival Korea on Monday evening at 9 ET. Meanwhile, the U.S. players will disperse to their various Spring Training camps with the start of the Major League season just two weeks away. "It hurts, because it's America's pastime and you want to win the whole thing," said Mark DeRosa, who filled in admirably at first base. "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 to go back to our Spring Training camps and talk about our accomplishments." Any possibility of that died in a five-run Japanese fourth inning, when right-hander Roy Oswalt folded against a bevy of lefty-swinging hitters. Team USA manager Davey Johnson was slow in warming up left-hander John Grabow and getting him into the game. "I hoped to have him ready by the eighth hitter [of the inning]," Johnson said about Grabow. "But it was awfully cold out there, and he has a little bit of a tight groin muscle. I should have gotten him up a little earlier than I did." The U.S. came into the inning with a 2-1 edge fashioned on a game-opening homer by Brian Roberts and David Wright's RBI double with two outs in the third inning. Opening the fourth against three consecutive left-handed hitters, Oswalt allowed singles to Atsunori Inaba and Michihiro Ogasawara. Kosuke Fukudome was safe, when second baseman Roberts misplayed a grounder for an error, allowing Inaba to score the tying run and Ogasawara to take third. Kenji Johjima knocked in the go-ahead run with his second sacrifice fly of the evening. And just like that the game spiraled out of control. Johnson left Oswalt in to be pounded by two more of the seven left-handed hitters that Japan manager Tatsunori Hara had inserted into the lineup: Akinori Iwamura tripled in a run and Munenori Kawasaki singled home another. By the time righty-swinging Hiroyuki Nakajima ultimately doubled home the final run of the frame, the outburst was complete. It was then that Johnson finally went out to get Oswalt and replaced him with Grabow to face the ninth Japanese hitter of the inning. "I thought he was throwing the ball all right," Johnson said about Oswalt. "I tried to get Grabow up. I didn't think it was going to take him so long. It was my fault. It took him longer in the cool weather to get loose. But I still thought [Oswalt] was throwing good enough to stay in the ballgame." Even with the Japanese having taken a 6-2 lead, the U.S. tried to battle back. The Americans pulled within 6-4 in the eighth inning on DeRosa's two-run double, with DeRosa going to third on the play when left fielder Norichika Aoki misplayed the carom as the ball rolled past him in the corner for an error. With right-handed reliever Takahiro Mahara on the mound and lefty-hitting Curtis Granderson due up, Johnson went to the bench and quizzically sent up righty-swinging pinch-hitter Evan Longoria, who had just joined the team on Saturday. "I was trying to get Evan in that spot," Johnson said. "That was going to be the tying run. He's an RBI man, and has been hitting the ball well this spring. It was the only basic move I had. I had to use three players to make that move [Granderson, Longoria and Shane Victorino to replace Granderson in center field]. I would do it again." Perhaps not. With the infield pulled in tight, Longoria struck out swinging. Roberts then bounced back to the box. When the Japanese scored three times in the bottom of the inning -- aided by a Derek Jeter throwing error -- it was all over, save for the final three outs. Game, set, match, Classic. Over and out. "My goal was to slow down the at-bat, because things seem too crazy at that moment," Longoria said. "I thought I did a decent job at it, but obviously, I wanted a different result." So did the rest of Team USA. The Americans finished the tournament with a 4-4 record and played one more game than the group that was eliminated in the second round in 2006. It may be something to build on with the next Classic four years away. "Anything is possible in a short series like this," said Jeter, who along with Scot Shields and Jake Peavy were the only carryovers from the '06 team on the roster Sunday night. "There's really not much room for error. All it takes is one [bad] game."
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.