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Winning start/ Japan begins defense of WBC title with less than convincing defeat of China

by Jim Allen (Mar 6, 2009)

Shuichi Murata earned two runs worth of international redemption with a big home run, and Yu Darvish threw four hitless innings as defending champion Japan overcame tournament underdog China 4-0 in Thursday's World Baseball Classic opener.

The win sends Japan into Saturday's Game 4 against the winner of tonight's South Korea -Taiwan game, also at Tokyo Dome.

"I represented Japan in the Beijing Olympics, but all my memories are bitter ones," Murata said. "Many things were lacking from my batting mechanics [then]. My defense, too, was not that good.

"I learned that no matter how much I want to win, I have to play within myself."

Murata helped overcome a tough China team that issued eight walks but allowed just five hits before a crowd of 43,428

In the third inning, a walk, a stolen base, a single and an error led to the first run. Murata, who had teased the crowd by just missing a three-run shot foul in the first, added to the tally with the first homer of the tournament.

"It's been a while since I've been fired up and I made an off-balance swing. But the ball got in," said Murata, who muscled a low pitch over the wall.

"The lesson I've learned is that in international play, you have to take big swings at decisive pitches. Doing that and hitting a homer gives me confidence."

Darvish worked deep into the count early, but faced the minimum through four with the only China runner getting caught stealing.

"I was able to execute my out pitches, so I was happy about that he said. "It was also good to get the job done without throwing many pitches."

Tournament rules require pitchers throwing more than 50 pitches to skip four days. By throwing just 46, Darvish be eligible to work again as early as Saturday.

Darvish didn't allow a hit, but had a close call in the third when right fielder Ichiro Suzuki robbed Chu Fujia of a leadoff double against the wall in right-center.

Japan finally got off the mark after No. 2 hitter Hiroyuki Nakajima drew his second, one-out walk of the game. He stole second and scored when Norichika Aoki's single skipped past charging center fielder Sun Lingfeng. Aoki beat the throw to third but was out at the plate on a grounder against a drawn-in infield.

The ball got past Li, but shortstop Ray Chang made a good pick and gunned Aoki down.

Murata, however, made the base situation academic by clearing the wall in straight-away left.

Japan threatened in the first inning on a walk by Nakajima and a double by Aoki. Li, however, escaped: striking out cleanup hitter Atsunori Inaba and retiring Murata following the slugger's high, deep foul.

Japan wasted a two-on, no out chance in the second when Kenji Jojima grounded into a double play.

The defending champs kept up the pressure in the fourth against China's second pitcher, lefty Chen Junyi.

A walk and a dropped fly ball put runners on second and third with one out, but the lead runner was cut down at the plate on a grounder by Ichiro Suzuki. China skipper Terry Collins intentionally walked Nakajima to load the bases, and first baseman Chu made his boss look brilliant.

After spending over a year with Orix, Collins had seen enough of Nakajima, and wanted his lefty to face the left-handed-hitting Aoki.

"I wanted a force play, and he [Nakajima] has beaten the s*** out of me so many times before." Collins said.

Aoki hit one sharply but Chu robbed him with a diving catch.

Hideaki Wakui came on in the fifth and worked two innings of scoreless relief. He surrendered China's first hit but a double play allowed him to face just six batters.

After Chen threw a 1-2-3 fifth, he issued a leadoff walk to Kosuke Fukudome, the third of four free passes to the Cubs outfielder. Sun Guojiang entered the game and walked Jojima.

With Suzuki on first after grounding into a force, Sun balked on a pickoff throw to first and Fukudome scored to make it 4-0.

Suzuki, who struggled in Japan's warmup games, went 0-for-5.

"He's still the leader of that team," Collins said. "He's not perfect. He's a human being. He's allowed to go 0-for-5. He could just as easily have gone 5-for-5."

China will now face the loser of tonight's game 2 in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. The loser of that game is out of the tournament.

In tonight's game, lefty Ryu Hanjin will start for South Korea, while right-hander Lee Chen-chang will go for Taiwan.


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