The Washington Times - March 22, 2009, 11:59PM

Japan capitalized on an error by USA second baseman Brian Roberts to push five runs across in the fourth inning and never looked back, beating the Americans 9-4 on Sunday to advance to the finals of the World Baseball Classic. All that stands between Japan and its second WBC title is Korea, which defeated Venezuela by a 10-2 score Saturday night. Monday’s championship game - scheduled for 9 p.m. - should feature a highly competitive matchup between the defending champs and their rival, which won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Roberts put the U.S. ahead right away with a leadoff homer and David Wright added an RBI double in the third. Trailing 2-1 entering the fourth, Japan’s first two hitters reached on singles, bringing up Kosuke Fukudome. The Cubs outfielder hit an apparent double play ball but Roberts booted it, loading the bases with no one out. Kenji Johjima followed with a sacrifice fly that tied the game, and then Akinori Iwamura put Japan ahead 3-2 with an RBI triple. He came around to score on a single by Munenori Kawasaki. Hirojuki Nakajima followed with an RBI double that gave Japan a 5-2 lead.

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Mark DeRosa stroked a two-run double in the eighth to give the U.S. hope, but Japan scored three times in the bottom of the frame to put the game away.

Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn’t at his best but put his team in position to win with 4 2/3 innings of two-run ball. The same can’t be said for U.S. starter Roy Oswalt, who allowed six runs, four of them earned, in 3 2/3 innings.

The game was played before more than 43,000 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, indicating that American fans are warming to the WBC. But while the U.S. fielded a competitive team that made a nice run, American fans are unlikely to get truly excited about the tournament unless all of their nation’s biggest stars join forces to take down the best the rest of the world has to offer, like the USA Basketball “Redeem Team” did in Beijing. And as long as the WBC is held in March and big league teams have their way, that probably isn’t going to happen.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.