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China shows heart in loss to Japan

Offense falls short, but pitching strong in Classic opener

China starter Li Chenhao was tagged for three runs on four hits over three innings.  (Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)

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TOKYO -- A determined China club fell short in the opening game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, falling to Japan, 4-0, in front of 43,428 fans in Tokyo on Thursday night.

China had as many hits in the game as Japan -- five -- but could not come through with runners on base. The big blow for Japan, a two-run home run by third baseman Shuichi Murata, was just too much to overcome.

Six Japanese pitchers combined for the shutout, with starter Yu Darvish getting the victory. Darvish went the first four innings, allowing only one base runner on a walk in the second. He faced the minimum and struck out three.

Japan threatened to score in the first two innings, but China starter Li Chenhao worked out of a couple of jams and stranded three Japanese base runners.

The Samurai broke the scoreless deadlock in the bottom of the third when Norichika Aoki singled to center, driving in Hiroyuki Nakajima, who had walked and stole second. Murata followed with his line-drive home run into the left-field stands to make the score 3-0.

Japan added a fourth run without a hit in the bottom of the sixth inning when with two outs after two walks and a force out, China pitcher Sun Guoqiang balked with runners at first and third.

Superstar and fan favorite Ichiro Suzuki was held in check by the Chinese hurlers, going 0-for-5.

Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said, "The Chinese pitchers did well. Our advance scout had told us they were good, but tonight they were much better than we had expected."

China skipper Terry Collins also expressed pride in the way his team -- especially the pitchers -- performed. "Whenever you face a lineup like (Japan's) and give up only five hits, you've pitched a good game," he said.

As for his team's handling of Ichiro, Collins said, "We got him at the right time. You're not going to hold down Ichiro for very long, and he could have just as easily gone 5-for-5."

Collins also indicated he was satisfied with the work of his starting pitcher, saying, "I would like to have pitched Li Chenhao another inning, but his pitch count was coming up, and it was time to make a change."

The atmosphere at Tokyo Dome resembled that of a mid-summer all-star game with a lavish opening ceremony, the first ball thrown by Sadaharu Oh, the world home run king and manager of Japan's 2006 Classic championship team, and numerous pitching changes because of the Classic pitch count rule.

Japan's Crown Prince Hironomiya and Crown Princess Masako attended the game, waving to the crowd from a royal box at the end of the seventh inning.

Japan now faces the winner of Friday night's game between Korea and Chinese Taipei on Saturday night, while China plays the loser of that game on Saturday afternoon.

Starting pitchers for Friday's game have been announced as Ryu Hyunjin for Korea and Lee Chen-Chang for Chinese Taipei.

Wayne Graczyk is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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