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Japan pounds Netherlands to reach WBC final round

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

So much for small ball.

Takashi Toritani led off the game with a home run, Hayato Sakamoto had a grand slam, and Samurai Japan broke out its power bats to advance to the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic with a dominating 16-4 rout over the Netherlands in the second round on Sunday night at Tokyo Dome. The game was called after the bottom of the seventh due to the mercy rule.

“Everyone thinks the Japanese team plays small baseball,” Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. “I didn’t expect that we’d hit six home runs.”

Japan advanced to the WBC’s final round, which will be held in San Francisco March 17-19.

“Our aim was to go to the States, and finally we reached that goal,” Yamamoto said. “I’m so happy right now. The next step is to (win) the semifinal and then go to the final.”

Before the game, the Netherlands’ manager, Hensley Meulens, said his team was ready to face the noise of a partisan crowd at the Big Egg. The fans were loud, but the crack of the ball coming off the Japanese bats turned out to be far more deafening.

“I didn’t expect them to hit six home runs,” Meulens said. “Nobody expected that. They had no home runs coming into the game. They had only two extra-base hits, and they were both from (Yoshio) Itoi, two doubles.

“But we knew they had power. We just didn’t execute our pitching today. We left balls up in the zone a lot, and they capitalized on every ball we left up in the zone. It’s hard to keep the ball in the ballpark, especially this ballpark where the ball carries, when the ball is up in the zone.”

The win comes on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the Japan on March 11, 2011.

“Tomorrow is the second anniversary,” Yamamoto said. “I imagine the past two years have been such tough years, and it will continue. The least we can do is play hard and try to send some (joy) as a team.”

Toritani got the fireworks show started Sunday by leading off the game with his solo homer.

“I was the leadoff hitter, so I was trying to get on base,” Toritani said. “I was trying to swing freely, that led to my leadoff home run.”

Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a two-run homer early in the second inning and Seiichi Uchikawa added a three-run shot later in that inning. Atsunori Inaba hit a solo homer in the third and Yoshio Itoi blasted a three-run home run over the right-field wall in the fourth. Sakamoto capped a wild night with a grand slam in the seventh.

Japan’s six home runs tied a WBC single-game record.

Japan didn’t do all of its damage with the long ball, it just seemed like it.

Shinnosuke Abe hit an RBI double in the fifth, and Matsuda drove in a run with a double in the sixth.

Toritani and Hirokazu Ibata also finished with doubles for Japan, which produced 10 extra bases hits in seven innings after managing two in its first four games.

The Dutch were supposed be the ones with the power, but they were held under Kenta Maeda’s spell for most of the night.

Maeda, the 2010 Sawamura Award winner with the Hiroshima Carp, shut down a Netherlands lineup laden with power and a little major league talent for his second victory of the WBC. Maeda struck out nine, allowing just a single, over five scoreless innings.

“He’s a great pitcher,” said Wladimir Balentien, an outfielder for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “I’ve faced him a lot. I know he has a great slider, he’s got great command and he showed it again tonight. He just came out and made good pitches and kept us off balance.”

Maeda beat China in the first round and is now 2-0 in the WBC.

“I got a great result in my last outing,” Maeda said. “I think I pitched better (tonight). My personal condition is getting better, and so far, tonight is the best.”

The Netherlands found more success once Maeda was out of the game.

They loaded the bases with two outs against reliever Tetsuya Utsumi in the sixth, and got on the board with a three-run double by Balentien. Andruw Jones singled in a run later in the inning.

The loss sends the Netherlands into an elimination game against Cuba that will decide which of those two team will join the Japanese in San Francisco. The winner of that contest will face Japan on Tuesday in a game to determine seeding in the semifinals.

The Dutch beat the Cubans 6-2 on Friday to begin the second round.

“That’s what it’s come down to,” Meulens said. “We have to be very good tomorrow to beat another good team in Cuba. We beat them the first game, but tomorrow is a different story.”

Rob Cordemans, one of the most famous players in the history of the Netherlands, got the start for his team and gave up Toritani’s home run to kick off what would end up being a long night.

Cordemans didn’t make it out of the second, giving up six runs on five hits — three of them home runs — in 1⅓ innings.