With top prospect Justin Smoak (Rangers) leading the way with five, the United States entered Tuesday’s game against Japan with 14 home runs, more than any of the 22 nations involved in the 2009 World Cup.
Behind two more homers—including the sixth of the tournament by Smoak—Team USA held off Japan 4-2 Tuesday to win its sixth straight game at the World Cup, while improving to 3-0 in the second round of the event.
Team Japan held the Americans to four hits, but all of them went for extra bases. Two were home runs, both in the third inning. Smoak drove in Trevor Plouffe (Twins), who had walked, with a two-run shot, and Terry Tiffee (Phillies) followed with a solo shot. Plouffe drove in the fourth run for the Americans in the bottom of the seventh with an RBI double, scoring Tug Hulett (Royals).
Team USA led 4-0 at this point behind Brad Lincoln (Pirates), who had a five-hit shutout through seven innings. Japan started coming back in the eighth, with a pair of doubles (one off Lincoln, one of Ehren Wasserman) driving home a run. Japan then brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth with a two-out, RBI double by pinch-hitter Go Yamaoka. But reliever Nate Field (Marlins) struck out catcher Kenji Suzuki to end the game.
Only one other game was played Tuesday due to rain, and a walk-off homer helped Taiwan defeat Australia 5-4 in 10 innings, in a game that was tied at 1 through nine actual baseball innings. Lefthander David Welch (Brewers) struck out 13 and yielded one run in seven innings for the Aussies, but Taiwan’s Wen-Yang Liao matched him, throwing nine innings and giving up just four hits. The tie led to the tiebreaker rule for the 10th inning, and Australia put three on the due in part to an error, a Chris Snelling RBI single (yes, that Chris Snelling), and sacrifice fly by Luke Hughes (Twins).
Taiwan got four runs in its half, though, as James Beresford (Twins) cost the Aussies two runs on a throwing error. Reliever Paul Mildren (Pirates) then gave up the game-ending homer to pinch-hitter Hang Hu-Lin, a 23-year-old catcher.
Team USA doesn’t play Wednesday, when a load of makeup games are scheduled. Cuba, the only 5-0 team in the event, plays Venezuela in one game to look forward to, while Netherlands—also undefeated at 2-0—plays host to Spain.
The second round lasts through Sunday, Sept. 20. The Americans’ remaining schedule includes Taiwan (on Thursday), followed by games with Australia, Mexico and host Italy in the finale on Sunday.