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Champs Japan crush Dutch to reach final round

TOKYO (AFP) –

Japan's starting pitcher Kenta Maeda throws the ball against the Netherlands at Tokyo Dome on March 10, 2013

Japan’s starting pitcher Kenta Maeda throws the ball against the Netherlands during the fourth inning of their second-round Pool 1 game in the World Baseball Classic tournament at Tokyo Dome on March 10, 2013. Japan’s World Baseball Classic title defence roared into life Sunday when they hammered the Netherlands 16-4 to secure a spot in the final round in San Francisco.

Japan’s World Baseball Classic title defence roared into life Sunday when they hammered the Netherlands 16-4 to secure a spot in the final round in San Francisco.

The two-time defending champions smashed six home runs at Tokyo Dome to floor the Dutch, who earlier upset South Korea and will now play Cuba, whom they have already beaten in the second round, in a play-off on Monday.

Japan, missing their Major League stars and with a coach under pressure from domestic media, lost to Cuba during the first round and they struggled to an extra-inning win against Taiwan in their opening game of round two.

But on Sunday, opening batter Takashi Toritani hit a solo homer in the first inning, and then Nobuhiro Matsuda and Seiichi Uchikawa cracked two more in the second to put Japan 6-0 up, while pitcher Kenta Maeda shut out the first five innings.

“I thought nothing but of taking the first base. I’m really happy that it eventually ended in a home run,” said Toritani.

Atsunori Inaba, with a solo homer, and Yoshio Itoi, with a three-run homer, stretched the lead at 10-0 by the fourth inning.

Captain Shinnosuke Abe and Matsuda hit a double each in the following two innings to add two runs, while starting pitcher Maeda gave just one hit and struck out nine batters in his five innings.

In the sixth inning, Wladimir Balentien hit a double to get three runs for the Netherlands and Andruw Jones added another with a single off relief pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi to reduce the deficit to 12-4 and raise brief hopes of a comeback.

But Hayato Sakamoto fired a grand slam for a 16-4 lead in the seventh, and closer Hideaki Wakui shut out the bottom inning to bring the game to an early halt under the mercy rule.

“I’m really glad that we achieved our first goal of reaching the final stage,” said Japan’s head coach Koji Yamamoto.

“I used Toritani as the first batter in our line-up, because he showed his fighting spirit by courageously stealing the second base at two downs in the ninth inning” against Taiwan on Friday.

“And Toritani suddenly hit a home run. It gathered the momentum to our side,” said Yamamoto.

Japan beat Taiwan 4-3 in an extra inning on Friday after Toritani returned home on a single hit by Hirokazu Ibata for 3-3.

Japan are now assured of a berth in this month’s four-team final series, featuring two sides from the Asian grouping and two more from pools in Puerto Rico and Arizona.

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