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Rob Smaal

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Japan stomps boys from Down Under

by Rob Smaal (Feb 26, 2009)

Samurai Japan continued preparations for defense of its World Baseball Classic title with its second impressive victory over Australia in as many days Wednesday at Kyocera Dome in Osaka.

A day after topping the Aussies 8-2, Japan's bullpen was unhittable and its offense was firing on all cylinders again, rapping out 16 hits on the way to a convincing 11-2 win.

The Australians, who will play in Group B in Mexico for the first round of the WBC, certainly didn't help their cause with some sloppy defense. They committed six errors in the game, including three in the third inning alone.

Offensively, Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro beat out a couple of his trademark infield singles and Atsunori Inaba, Shuichi Murata and Ichiro's Seattle teammate Kenji Jojima all had multi-hit nights. Yakult Swallows hit-machine Norichika Aoki knocked a two-run triple to left in a five-run fourth inning for Japan. Aoki appeared to hurt his left arm when the throw hit him as he slid into third. He finished the inning but was later replaced by Kosuke Fukudome of the Chicago Cubs.

For the second day in a row, Japan's starting pitching--expected to be one of their strengths--let them down. And, also for the second straight day, the bullpen picked them right back up.

Boston Red Sox right hander Daisuke Matsuzaka got the start Wednesday, but he left the game after facing just 10 batters. Dice-K threw 38 pitches, giving up two runs on five hits while striking out a pair. With two men on base in the bottom of the second inning, Australian catcher Grant Karlsen slugged a two-run double to right over Ichiro's head. Matsuzaka got the next batter to fly out to short, but Japan skipper Tatsunori Hara had seen enough and waved Softbank's Toshiya Sugiuchi in from the bullpen.

Australia would not get a hit the rest of the evening and they would not get a man on base until Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa issued a walk to lead off the ninth, before striking out the next three to end it.

Sugiuchi, Tetsuya Utsumi, Shunsuke Watanabe, Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Hideaki Wakui combined to set the side down in order through six innings. Hawks lefty Sugiuchi was the most impressive of the bunch. He retired all seven batters he faced, the first five on strikeouts.

"I was a little nervous out there today, but I was able to settle down and take care of business," Sugiuchi said.

Japan loaded the bases off Australia starter Damian Moss in the second inning on a double by Murata and a couple of walks, but the big lefty got Seiichi Uchikawa to line out to short with two out to end the threat.

The Aussies and manager Jon Deeble--one of the Red Sox scouts instrumental in the club signing Matsuzaka--would dodge that bullet, but things would get ugly for them after that.

On Tuesday, also in Osaka, Japan downed the Aussies 8-2 with Tampa Bay Rays infielder Akinori Iwamura driving in a pair of runs on sacrifice flies.

In that game, Rakuten Eagles hurler Hisashi Iwakuma pitched 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief after starter Yu Darvish, the Nippon-Ham Fighters' ace, loaded the bases on two walks and hit a batter before Grant Karlsen singled in a run in the second inning.

Japan will also play exhibition games this weekend against the Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.

The WBC starts March 5 at Tokyo Dome with Japan taking on South Korea, China and Taiwan in Pool A. The top two teams from the group move on to the next round in San Diego with the final of the 16-nation tournament taking place March 23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.


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