Oh jumps for joy as Japan advances to semis at WBC

 
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SAN DIEGO, California, March 17 (17:58) Kyodo

 
Japan manager Sadaharu Oh said Thursday he is overwhelmed with
joy that his team has reached the semifinals after the United States
was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic by Mexico the same day.

With the United States' 2-1 defeat to Mexico, Japan booked its
spot in the semifinals at Petco Park on Saturday in what will be its
third meeting with the undefeated South Korean team for a chance to
play either Cuba or the Dominican Republic in the final on Monday.

Oh is hoping that the third time facing South Korea will reveal
the truth once in for all.

''To be honest, I haven't felt this thrilled in a long time,''
said Oh after learning of Japan's fate while eating out at a
restaurant after arriving in San Diego earlier in the day.

Oh said that although he had been discouraged with Japan's
second defeat to South Korea on Wednesday, he felt satisfied that all
his players had done their best to allow as few runs throughout the
tournament and it was that resolve that ultimately led to Japan
making to the best four.

''Right now there's nothing for us to be afraid of anymore.
Winning this game will depend on scoring early and doing our best to
shut them down in the late innings,'' he said.

Oh said he plans to have Yomiuri Giants ace right-hander Koji
Uehara (1-0) take the hill for the first time against South Korea,
calling him the pitcher with the most experience to handle an
opponent of this caliber.

Meanwhile, Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who has
been tainted a villain by the South Korean fans for comments made
earlier in the tournament, said a third straight defeat to the South
Korean team is unacceptable.

''This is the third time we will face them. Japan cannot let
them beat us for a third time. I felt the same way yesterday but my
feeling is even stronger now,'' Suzuki said.

In Wednesday's defeat to South Korea, Suzuki went 1-for-3 with
one strikeout.

He yelled out profanity in the direction of some fans after
failing to catch a fly over the wall in foul territory in the
decisive eighth inning, and TV replays appeared to show him barking
out an expletive in the dugout when the South Koreans took the field
for their victory lap.

South Korean fans booed Suzuki during the game, apparently upset
with the All-Star outfielder for making a comment before the first
round that he hoped Japan would beat its first-round opponents --
China, Taiwan and South Korea -- so badly that they would not want to
play Japan again for another 30 years.

''This is possibly the first time I've been this excited in my
career as a baseball player. I feel that we have the right team to
win this. There are many ways to win a baseball game and the point is
we have to adapt to whatever the situation is,'' Suzuki said.

South Korea has beaten Japan by only one run in both games,
holding Team Japan to a total of three runs. Suzuki said that the
winner of the third contest will have to be the toughest mentally.
That will be even harder against a Korean pitching staff with a
tournament-best 1.33 ERA.

''Nothing will change technically. Taking control in this game
will all come down to which team has the stronger mentality.''

When questioned about how the game against South Korea compares
with playing the United States, Suzuki hinted that the rivalry was
deeply rooted.

''The pressure of trying to beat South Korea is something
totally different than trying to beat the United States. I won't go
into explaining the details,'' he said.

Suzuki had a fitful night's rest after the defeat to South Korea
but said Team Japan is now in a positive mode after learning of its
fate of a chance to settle the score.
 


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