Finally, we can say the United States is playing for the WBC championship.
On a wet and soggy night in Los Angeles, the United States took advantage of a couple of defensive miscues from the Japanese, knocking them off 2-1 to advance to the championship of the WBC. In a rematch of the 2009 WBC semifinal, the United States was able to overcome the pressure of high expectations and defeat a very tough Japanese team.
Team USA Manager Jim Leyland needed a solid start from Tanner Roark and that is exactly what he got. Roark was masterful in his four innings of work, giving up no runs and allowing only two hits. Roark set the tone early, hitting Japanese leadoff hitter Tetsuto Yamada on the second pitch of the game. Once Yamada was hit, you could see the Japanese hitters who are normally very comfortable, become a bit more uncomfortable at the plate. Roark used it to his advantage, keeping them off balance for much of his four innings.
The first three innings were pretty uneventful as both Roark and Japanese starter Tomoyuki Sugano were taking care of business. It wasn't until the 4th inning that the first run of the game was scored. After an Adam Jones strikeout to start the inning, Christian Yelich reached on a fielding error by Ryosuke Kikuchi, allowing Yelich to advance to second. Nolan Arenado struck out and Eric Hosmer walked, bringing up Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen singled to left bringing in Yelich for the first run of the game. The Americans one run lead would hold until the 6th inning.
Reliever Nate Jones was great in his 1 and 1/3 innings pitched but was touched up in the 6th inning. After striking out Yamada to start the inning, Ryosuke Kikuchi made up for his fielding error sending a 1-2 pitch over the fence to tie the game at 1-1. Kikuchi was the final batter Jones would face, having Andrew Miller come on to replace him. The bullpen was fantastic for Leyland and the Americans, shutting down the Japanese lineup for the remainder of the game.
The Americans dented the plate once again in the 8th inning. After Giancarlo Stanton struck out to begin the inning, a single by Brandon Crawford got things going for the Americans. Ian Kinsler smoked a double to center sending Crawford to third. A bit of a bad jump kept Crawford from scoring.
With runners at second and third, Adam Jones came up to the plate with a chance to be the hero again. Jones, who has been a major player for the United States thus far this WBC, came through again. On the first pitch Jones saw from Kodai Senga, he ripped a fastball to third base, causing Nobuhiro Matsuda to bobble the hot shot. Matsuda recovered to throw out Jones at first for the second out of the inning but with Crawford running on contact, there was no chance for Matsuda to throw him out at the plate with the bobble. The run gave the United States a 2-1 lead, which was all they would need.
Japan would threaten in the bottom half of the 8th but were shut down by Mark Melancon and Pat Neshek. The 9th inning was an easy one for closer Luke Gregerson, getting two outs on just four pitches. He then struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda on three pitches, ending the game and sending the Americans to the final of the WBC for the first time in history.
This was a crucial win for the Americans, as they now move on to face Puerto Rico in what will be an incredible matchup tonight. Since the WBC started in 2006, the pressure has always been on the United States to play for and win the WBC championship. They now have that in their sights and are just 27 outs away from claiming their first WBC championship.
Even with some big players struggling, Jim Leyland has done an incredible job of getting this team to come together and playing as well as they have. With all of the issues and limitations Leyland has to deal with coaching this team, this performance by the United States certainly cements Leyland as one of the greatest managers in history. Can he continue his hot touch and help manage the United States to their first WBC title?