- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Defending champion Japan advanced to the World Baseball Classic semifinals Wednesday night, leaving mighty Cuba in the fog of another international failure.

Japan beat Cuba 5-0 on a foggy night at Petco Park to clinch the final spot in the semifinals this weekend at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Japan scored two unearned runs with two outs in the fourth inning when Cuban center fielder Yoennis Cespedes committed a two-base error on Michihiro Ogasawara’s high fly ball. Even though it was hit into heavy fog and Cespedes had a long run, he seemed to see the ball and had it in his glove before it popped out, glanced off his cap and rolled to the wall.

Norichika Aoki went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and one run scored. Ichiro Suzuki went 2-for-5 to raise his WBC average to .214. He tripled in the ninth and scored on Aoki’s single.

Hisashi Iwakuma and Toshiya Sugiuchi combined to five-hit the Cubans.

Baseball long has been Cuba’s soul, and the WBC and Olympics are among the few major forums it has to show off the country’s talent away from home.

But the Cubans are in a funk.

The WBC elimination came seven months after South Korea upset Cuba to win the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Three years ago at Petco Park, Japan beat Cuba 10-6 to win the inaugural WBC.

Japan joins South Korea, Venezuela and the United States in the semifinals. Japan will play Korea on Thursday night at Petco Park to determine the seedings from Group 1. South Korea clinched its spot in the semis with a 4-1 win over Japan on Tuesday night.

Japan beat Cuba for the second time in four days and the third time in two WBCs. Boston Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, who earned the win in the 2006 title game, dominated for six innings in a 6-0 win on Sunday.

Fog began rolling in off the Pacific Ocean well before the first pitch.

With one out in the fourth, Aoki singled and advanced to third on Atsunori Inaba’s double down the right-field line. Both runners held on Shuichi Murata’s fly ball to shallow center before scoring on Cespedes’ miscue.

Akinori Iwamura walked leading off the fifth and seventh innings and scored both times, on Aoki’s single and then Hiroyuki Nakajima’s sacrifice fly.

Iwakuma (1-1) allowed five hits in six innings. He got 15 ground-ball outs and struck out two while walking one. Sugiuchi finished with three perfect innings for the save.

Iwakuma lowered his ERA to 0.73 in 12 1-3 innings in three WBC games, including two starts.

Cuban starter Yunieski Maya (0-1) allowed four hits and no earned runs in 3 2-3 innings.

The game drew 9,774 fans to 42,000-seat Petco Park.

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