Japan downs Netherlands, U.S. dominates Puerto Rico: WBC

Shinnosuke Abe homered twice in an eight-run second inning as two-time defending champion Japan beat the Netherlands 10-6 to secure first place in Pool 1 of the World Baseball Classic.

Both Netherlands, Japan advance, will travel to San Fran while Dominican Republic drops Italy

Japan's designated hitter Shinnosuke Abe celebrates with teammates Seiichi Uchikawa, right, and Atsunori Inaba after hitting a three-run homer in Tuesday's game at Tokyou Dome. (Toru Takahashi/Associated Press)

Shinnosuke Abe homered twice in an eight-run second inning as two-time defending champion Japan beat the Netherlands 10-6 to wrap up first place in Pool 1 of the World Baseball Classic at the Tokyo Dome.

Japan and the Netherlands have both qualified for the semifinals in San Francisco on March 17-18. The game Tuesday was to decide the pool winner and runner-up.

"Getting eight runs like that early was huge," Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. "It was good to see Abe hitting like that because we rely on him in big games."

The Netherlands' Andrelton Simmons led off the game with a solo homer to left but the lead didn't last long. Abe tied it with a solo homer to right off starter David Bergman.

After an RBI single by Nobuhiro Matsuda, Hisayoshi Chono hit a bases-loaded double that gave Japan a 5-1 lead. Abe connected for a three-run homer to give Japan an 8-1 lead.

"It's been a while since I hit two in one inning," said Abe, the captain of Japan's team. "We had a lot of support from our fans here and now we're going over there to win it all."

Japan is bidding to win a third straight WBC title without players from Major League Baseball.

Japan starter Kenji Otonari earned the win after giving up one run and one hit while striking out six over three innings.

After scoring two runs in the seventh, the Netherlands closed the gap to 8-6 in the eighth. Hainley Statia scored on a groundout to short, Kalian Sams hit an RBI single to centre and Quintin De Cuba hit a single to right that scored Sams from third.

Chono drove in two runs in the ninth with a single to left, and Kazuhisa Makita retired the side to close out the game.

Japan went 5-1 in the first two rounds, losing only to Cuba.

U.S. 7, Puerto Rico 1

Gio Gonzalez gave Team USA its best start yet, and David Wright provided a big finish.

Gonzalez pitched five scoreless innings and the Americans beat Puerto Rico 7-1 in the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night.

Wright drove in five runs, the last three with a bases-loaded double in the eighth. That prompted chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" from the crowd of 32,872.

The United States fell behind in all three games in the opening round, but led from the first inning against Puerto Rico. The Americans will play Thursday night against the Dominican Republic, which remained unbeaten in the WBC by rallying past Italy 5-4 on Tuesday.

Puerto Rico plays Italy in an elimination game Wednesday.

Gonzalez (1-0), who grew up in nearby Hialeah, struck out five for the hometown team and departed with a 3-0 lead. Manager Joe Torre then went to his bullpen, and five relievers combined to allow one run over the final four innings.

Gonzalez lowered the ERA of the U.S. rotation to 4.00.

Wright had an RBI groundout in the third and a run-scoring single in the fifth. He's 7 for 16 (.438) with 10 RBIs in four games.

Joe Mauer's two-out RBI double scored Ryan Braun with the first U.S. run in the opening inning. The Americans added a run in the third on singles by Brandon Phillips and Braun and Wright's RBI groundout.

Adam Jones had a two-run RBI single in the seventh.

Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton earned a big cheer from the Miami crowd when he made a running catch at the warning track to rob Martin Maldonado of a two-out, two-RBI hit in the fourth inning. Stanton also singled twice and walked.

Braun and Mauer each reached base four times.

Puerto Rico starter Mario Santiago (0-1) allowed three runs in 4 1-3 innings. Angel Pagan's drove in Puerto Rico's run in the eighth.

Dominican Republic 5, Italy 4

Robinson Cano pumped his fist. Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez danced together near home plate. Fernando Rodney pointed to the sky after the final out.

The Dominican Republic is unbeaten and having fun in the World Baseball Classic.

Nelson Cruz's two-out, RBI single broke a seventh-inning tie, and the Dominicans overcame an early four-run deficit Tuesday to beat Italy 5-4.

Cano had three hits, including his second home run in the WBC. He led a comeback that had his teammates laughing and celebrating every hit in front of their dugout.

"That's something you never see in the big leagues," Cano said. "Here we get a chance to come out and give high-fives to the guys. We can jump around. Nobody sees you trying to show somebody up. It's more about the chemistry on the team. We're all excited to be here, and we've all got a mission to win."

Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza said his team noted the Dominicans' demeanour.

"Some enhanced theatrics," Piazza said. "It's not what we're used to, but hey, you have to go to with it and have fun. It's unorthodox for me. Obviously in a 162-game season you're not going to be seeing that, so you have to just let it roll off your back."

The Dominicans (4-0) advanced to a winner's-bracket game Thursday night in the double-elimination second round.

Cano's homer off the upper-deck facade in right field made the score 2-all in the sixth. Reyes also homered, and celebrated with Ramirez after crossing the plate.

"This team has a lot of emotion," manager Tony Pena said. "They kept talking in the dugout — 'We're going to come back and win the game."'

Chris Colabello hit a three-run homer, his second, to give Italy a 4-0 lead in the first inning.

The Dominicans trailed 4-2 in the seventh, when they loaded the bases with one out on consecutive singles by Reyes, Erick Aybar and Cano off Pat Venditte (0-1).

Edwin Encarnacion walked to force in a run, and Ramirez tied the game with a sacrifice fly.

Cruz followed with a broken-bat, two-out single to give the Dominicans their first lead. Cruz has six RBIs in four games, while Cano hiked his average to .632 (12 for 19) with six RBIs.

"My interest is to win," Cano said. "We're having a really good time."

The New York Yankees second baseman was annoyed in the seventh when Italy's Nick Punto slid hard into second base on an inning-ending forceout.

"I was upset," Cano said. "I don't care if you slide on a double play, but when it's a forceout, the last thing you want to do is get hurt."

The crowd of 14,482 was festive for the opening game in Miami, with horn-honking and chanting by Dominican fans who created a steady din. The retractable roof, closed for all but eight Marlins games last year, was open on an 80-degree afternoon.

Pedro Strop (2-0) threw a scoreless seventh. Rodney, who has yet to allow a hit in four appearances, reached 98 mph on the radar gun when he pitched a hitless ninth for his third save.

Five relievers limited Italy to one hit and no runs over the final 4 2-3 innings.

"You're facing some hard throwers in that bullpen," Colabello said. "They're got pretty good stuff."

Early wildness plagued Dominican starter Edinson Volquez, who threw only one of his first 13 pitches for a strike as he walked the bases loaded. Alex Liddi's sacrifice fly made it 1-0, and Colabello followed with a homer.

"Four runs was one too few," Colabello said. "I don't think any lead is comfortable, especially in this format."

Volquez allowed four runs in 4 1-3 innings.

"Our pitching after the first inning did a great job," Pena said.

Tiago Da Silva went 5 1-3 innings for Italy and allowed two runs, both on homers. The Italians play in a losers'-bracket game Wednesday.

"They're obviously an All-Star calibre team," Piazza said. "Obviously we are disappointed. We have to just try and inch back tomorrow and hopefully pick up a 'W' and keep going."