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Team USA Beats Japan, Advances To WBC Finals For First Time



SEE ALSO: WBC Schedule
LOS ANGELES—The United States' pitching staff was derided as second-tier coming into the World Baseball Classic, a group of guys who didn’t make up the best their country had to offer, or even the second-best in some circles. The assessment had some merit, given the long list of aces who chose not to participate. And yet, it’s because of that very pitching staff that Team USA is headed to its first WBC championship game. Tanner Roark and six relievers combined on a four-hitter, Adam Jones drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, and Team USA beat mighty Japan 2-1 at Dodger Stadium in the WBC semifinals on Tuesday night. "You know, we've got what we've got, and everybody in there, all the starters are great pitchers and they've done it before," Roark said. "They've played in big games before. It's a chip, yes, I guess you could say that. But, overall, we just go out there and do our stuff and not let things get inside our heads." The victory guarantees the U.S. its best finish ever in the WBC. The Americans will face undefeated Puerto Rico in the title game on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Roark set the tone with four scoreless innings in his first start of the tournament for Team USA. The Nationals righthander needed just 48 pitches to cruise through undefeated Japan’s lineup. After Nate Jones allowed a game-tying home run to Ryosuke Kikuchi in the sixth inning, the U.S. bullpen was shutdown. Andrew Miller, Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon and Pat Neshek carried it to the ninth, and Luke Gregerson closed it out with a 1-2-3 final inning, capped by a strikeout of Nobuhiro Matsuda to end it. It was the latest brilliant performance by the U.S. pitching staff. Altogether it has a 2.47 ERA and has held opponents to a .202 batting average in the WBC. "Well, they got one run and it was a solo homer, so I'd have to say that was an excellent job," manager Jim Leyland said. "But the key tonight, without question, was Tanner Roark. There is no question about that. We needed some innings from him, and he gave us those innings. We stayed right in the plan with the Nationals and Tanner, but had he come out tonight and gotten off to a rocky start, we could have been in trouble." The U.S. never trailed in large part because of Roark and the bullpen. Andrew McCutchen gave the Americans a 1-0 lead in the fourth with an RBI single. Kikuchi tied with his opposite-field blast in the sixth, but the U.S. retook the lead in the eighth.
Reliever Kodai Senga had dominated the U.S. with a 94-96 mph fastball, big breaking curveball and diving changeup. He struck out the first four batters he faced—Eric Hosmer, McCutchen, Buster Posey and Giancarlo Stanton—including three swinging. But his command left him for a brief minute in the eighth, and the U.S. pounced. Brandon Crawford lined a fastball over the middle into right field for a single. Ian Kinsler pounded a hanging slider into the gap to give Team USA runners on second and third with one out. And Jones attacked a first-pitch fastball that drawn-in third baseman Matsuda couldn’t handle, allowing Crawford to score the go-ahead run. That was all the U.S. bullpen needed. Japan started to rally against Melancon, but Neshek entered with two on and two out in the eighth and got cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh to fly out to right to end the threat. Gregerson took over in the ninth and needed only seven pitches secure his third save of the tournament. His final pitch elicited hearty chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" from the crowd of 33,462. "It means a heck of a lot," McCutchen said. "We've got a great group of guys on this team who have dedicated this time to be able to try and win some ballgames. Sacrifices had to be made, and there are no egos when that door opens. "Just being in this position, I'm looking forward to tomorrow. It's a first, so I'm just happy to be a part of that." Japan, meanwhile, was eliminated in the semifinals for the second straight WBC after winning the first two tournaments. That despite a dominant outing by righthander Tomoyuki Sugano, who pitched six innings, gave up three hits and one run (unearned), walked three and struck out six. What cost Japan, in addition to a dormant offense, was uncharacteristic sloppiness from its fielders. Sugano retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, but a ground ball of the bat of Christian Yelich
Tanner_Roark_DylanBuellGettyImages.jpg

A's Nab Tanner Roark From Reds, Deal OF Jameson Hannah

According to Susan Slusser, the Reds will pay $2.1 million of the roughly $3 million remaining on Roark's contract.

was booted by Kikuchi at second base in the fourth, giving the U.S. the opening it needed. Yelich raced all the way to second on the error and, two batters later, McCutchen laced a two-out single into left field to score Yelich and give Team USA the lead. Combined with Matsuda's bobble at third on Jones' grounder in the eighth, the U.S. was able to scrape just enough runs across on Japanese mistakes. "The team that makes mistakes will lose," Japan manager Hiroki Kukubo said. "That's what it means. I cannot blame them, though, for doing that." Team USA beat the defending champion Dominican Republic in an elimination game in the second round and perennial power Japan in the semifinals. Now, it has one more step to take against the most dominant team of the tournament so far in Puerto Rico. "I said coming into this event I didn't really want to talk about the fact that the United States has never won it, they've never gone to the finals. I didn't think that was a big deal," Leyland said. "I wanted this for the players to be a memory. And I've talked a lot about it, make a memory. Hopefully, it's a real good one, regardless of the results tomorrow. I know it is for me. It's been an absolute honor."

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