Americans Advance; Host Taiwan Goes Down

Led by a strong starting performance by righthander Jeff Karstens (Yankees) and a first-inning home run by Andy LaRoche (Dodgers), Team USA advanced to the semifinal round of the 2007 World Cup, beating South Korea 3-1 Friday.

LaRoche entered the game with seven extra-base hits and has paced Team USA’s offense, hitting in the three-hole behind Colby Rasmus and Jayson Nix and in front of Steven Pearce and Evan Longoria. His homer followed Nix, who had a one-out infield single. The U.S. added a run in the third inning and Karstens and the U.S. bullpen finished up, with Jeff Stevens (Indians) closing it out for the save. Karstens pitched out of a sixth-inning jam, when Korea got its only run. After one out Korea put runners on with a single and double and got a run-scoring groundout to Nix at second. Nix ranged far to his left and dived to make the stop in the outfield grass, got up and got the out at first. Karstens struck out the next batter looking to retire the side.

Karstens went on to pitch seven innings, walking none and striking out seven. He needed just 82 pitches–66 were strikes. Lee Gronkiewicz (Blue Jays) and Stevens wrapped up with scoreless innings apiece.

The American victory sets up a semifinal showdown with the Netherlands, which upset host Taiwan 6-3 in 11 innings. Coach Robert Eeenhorn’s Dutch team got three innings of shutout relief from 7-foot-1 righty Loek Van Mil (Twins), rallied to tie the game at 2 with a two-out ninth-inning run off Taiwan reliever Po-Hsuan Keng (Blue Jays), then scored four runs in the top of the 11th, capped by a key double from outfielder Greg Halman (Mariners) and a two-run bloop single by shortstop Hainley Statia (Angels).

The other semifinal will feature heavily-favored Cuba and Japan, traditional powers with different pedigrees in this tournament. The veteran Cubans shut out Mexico 6-0 behind lefthander Adiel Palma, one of the team’s elder statesmen. Japan, which has a team of amateurs while saving its pro team for next month’s Asian Olympic qualifier, got a combined seven-hitter and a third-inning homer by center fielder Hisayoshi Chono off lefthander Travis Blackley (Giants). Blackley took the loss and gave up only the one run in five innings.

We’ll have more details to come as they become available.