Team USA advances to World Baseball Classic final for first time

Big League Stew

For the first time in World Baseball Classic history, Team USA will play in the championship game. The United States won a hard-fought battle against Team Japan in the semifinal round with a 2-1 victory.

With the win, Team USA will advance to the championship game for the first time in the tournament’s brief history. Prior to Tuesday’s win, the highest the team had finished in the event was fourth overall back in 2009.

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The semifinals matchup against Team Japan was mostly defined by strong pitching performances. Washington Nationals starter Tanner Roark and Yomiuri Giants pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano dominated early, putting up zeroes during the first three innings.

Tanner Roark tossed a strong start for Team USA in the Semifinal game. (AP Photo)
Tanner Roark tossed a strong start for Team USA in the Semifinal game. (AP Photo)

In the fourth, the U.S. capitalized on a rare mistake by Team Japan. With one out, second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi couldn’t handle a hard grounder by Christian Yelich. The error was highly uncharacteristic, as Kikuchi has won four Gold Gloves awards in Japan.

An Eric Hosmer walk then put men on first and second. With two outs, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen singled to left, scoring Yelich from second.

Buster Posey nearly added to the lead with a bloop single behind short, but Hayato Sakamoto made a tumbling catch to keep Team USA’s lead at one.

Though Kikuchi was the goat following his fourth-inning error, he more than made up for that mistake in the sixth. With one out, Kikuchi smacked a 98 mph fastball from Chicago White Sox reliever Nate Jones out to right field for a game-tying home run.

In the seventh, Team Japan turned to reliever Kodai Senga. Senga wasted no time tearing through Team USA during the frame, striking out the side. That dominance, however, wouldn’t carry over to the eighth.

After striking out Giancarlo Stanton to open the frame, Senga allowed a single to Brandon Crawford and a double to Ian Kinsler to put runners in scoring position. That brought Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones to the plate.

On the first pitch, Jones hit a weak ground ball to third base. Nobuhiro Matsuda may have had an opportunity to throw out Crawford at home had he fielded the ball cleanly, but he failed to grab the ball initially as it bounced on the grass. Because of that, Matsuda had to settle for the out at first, allowing Crawford to score the go-ahead run.

Adam Jones’ late groundout drove in the go-ahead run for Team USA. (AP Photo)
Adam Jones’ late groundout drove in the go-ahead run for Team USA. (AP Photo)

The U.S. faces a tough task in its quest for a WBC title. Team USA will take on the undefeated Team Puerto Rico in the championship game on Wednesday. The contest, which will air on MLB Network, will begin at 9 p.m. ET. Seth Lugo will take the hill for Puerto Rico. Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is expected to start for the United States.

Thus far, Puerto Rico is 7-0 during the tournament. One of those wins came against Team USA. Puerto Rico narrowly walked away with a win, picking up a 6-5 victory during the second round of tournament play.

That result won’t matter going into Wednesday. The championship game is a winner-take-all affair, so everything will be on the line when the two teams get together for what promises to be an exciting rematch.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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