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USA, Japan square off for a spot in WBC championship

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - The United States hopes to spoil Japan's hopes for a second consecutive World Baseball Classic title this evening, as the two play a semifinal matchup at Dodger Stadium.

Tonight's winner will face Korea in the championship game at Chavez Ravine on Monday. Korea, which won the gold medal at last summer's Beijing Olympics, knocked off Venezuela, 10-2, in the first semifinal on Saturday.

Team USA was on the brink of elimination on Tuesday, but rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to get past Puerto Rico and secure a spot in the Final Four.

However, the United States, which did not get out of the second round at the inaugural Classic, has been ravaged by injuries, as Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, Florida's Matt Lindstrom, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Atlanta's Chipper Jones have all been hampered by various ailments.

Tampa Bay's reigning Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria was added to the Team USA roster on Thursday to replace Jones.

Manger Davey Johnson, who led the U.S. to a win over Japan in the bronze medal game at the most recent Summer Olympics, named Houston righty Roy Oswalt as his starter for tonight's tilt. San Diego's Jake Peavy will start on Monday should the U.S. advance.

Oswalt, who pitched for Team USA in 2000 when it defeated Cuba for the Olympic gold medal, tossed four scoreless innings when the United States avoided elimination last Sunday by beating the Netherlands. He is 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA in two games this tournament.

Japan, meanwhile, will counter with Boston righty Daisuke Matsuzaka, who could on his way towards his second WBC MVP award. Matsuzaka is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his two starts with nine strikeouts in 10 innings.

Matsuzaka led Japan to the first-ever WBC championship in 2006 by going 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA.

Japan, which hasn't defeated the United States since the 2005 World Cup in the Netherlands, has again been as good as anyone in this tournament, going 5-2 with both of its losses coming to Korea. Japan, though, beat Korea on Thursday to earn the top seed out of Pool 1.

Japan defeated Cuba in the championship game at the WBC in 2006.

Injuries won't just be a problem for the United States, as Japan will be without first baseman Shuichi Murata the rest of the way after he pulled his hamstring in the meaningless win over Korea to wrap Pool 1 play.

Murata had played in all seven games and was batting .320 (8-for-25) with two homers and seven RBI.

The U.S. is 7-6 in its last 13 meetings with Japan, but has won the last four matchups, including a victory over the defending champs at the '06 WBC.

03/22 10:21:59 ET


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