Sayonara! U.S. ousted by Japan

LOS ANGELES — For the second time in three years, the United States was beaten at its own game on its own turf.

Maybe baseball just ain't America's sport anymore.

Daisuke Matsuzaka remained undefeated in the World Baseball Classic and defending champion Japan topped Team USA 9-4 in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night.

"Can you believe this? Look at the score. I feel so bad about this," Tom Lasorda, Hall of Fame manager and WBC global ambassador, said from his seat behind home plate.

"I'm very, very disappointed. We had high hopes. This is the second time we were supposed to win. We taught these people the game."

Instead, Japan gave the lessons on American soil.

Matsuzaka sent his country into Monday night's title game against South Korea, a 10-2 winner over Venezuela in Saturday's semifinal. Japan won the inaugural tournament in 2006, defeating Cuba in the final.

Akinori Iwamura's RBI triple was the key hit in a five-run fourth inning against starter Roy Oswalt, and the U.S. absorbed its first loss to Japan in major international play since the 2005 World Cup. The Americans had won four in a row, including an 8-4 victory in the bronze medal game at the Beijing Olympics.

"We didn't play as well defensively," U.S. manager Davey Johnson said. "We made it a ballgame through seven innings, and made some mistakes, walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth, and that's not the way you win ballgames."

The WBC has hardly been a showcase for the United States, despite a roster loaded with major league stars.

Three years ago, the Americans were eliminated 2-1 by Mexico in the second round of the tournament after beating Japan 4-3 during pool play in Anaheim.

"I have no thoughts whatsoever that I have surpassed them," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said through a translator. "But the American baseball team came to recognize the Japanese team. To some extent, that is something I believe is the result of this."

The Americans came into their first final four appearance hobbled by injuries.

During the second round in Miami, they lost second baseman Dustin Pedroia (left side), first baseman Kevin Youkilis (sprained left ankle, left Achilles' tendinitis) and reliever Matt Lindstrom (strained right rotator cuff). Chipper Jones (right side) was replaced for the semifinal by Evan Longoria.

The Americans were the visiting team on a cold, blustery night in Los Angeles, having earned the designation by finishing second in Group 2. Japan won Group 1, with South Korea coming in second.

"Some of our pitchers aren't as far along as some of the Japanese pitchers," said Johnson, who played in Japan in the mid-1970s. "When I was in Japan, spring training started January 1. It's a lot of practice. It does give them a head start when you play them in March, but I thought our guys played well."

Matsuzaka allowed two runs and five hits in 4 2-3 innings. The Boston Red Sox right-hander struck out four and walked three before being pulled when he reached 98 pitches, two shy of the 100-limit for the tournament's final two rounds.

Matsuzaka is 3-0 in this year's WBC, having allowed 14 hits and four runs.

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