Japan tops Netherlands at WBC

Shinnosuke Abe homered twice in an eight-run second inning as two-time defending champion Japan beat the Netherlands 10-6 to wrap up first place in Pool 1 of the World Baseball Classic.

Japan and the Netherlands have both qualified for the semifinals in San Francisco on March 17-18. The game Tuesday was to decide the pool winner and runner-up.

”Getting eight runs like that early was huge,” Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. ”It was good to see Abe hitting like that because we rely on him in big games.”

The Netherlands’ Andrelton Simmons led off the game with a solo homer to left but the lead didn’t last long. Abe tied it with a solo homer to right off starter David Bergman.

After an RBI single by Nobuhiro Matsuda, Hisayoshi Chono hit a bases-loaded double that gave Japan a 5-1 lead. Abe connected for a three-run homer to give Japan an 8-1 lead.

”It’s been a while since I hit two in one inning,” said Abe, the captain of Japan’s team. ”We had a lot of support from our fans here and now we’re going over there to win it all.”

Japan is bidding to win a third straight WBC title without players from Major League Baseball.

Japan starter Kenji Otonari earned the win after giving up one run and one hit while striking out six over three innings.

After scoring two runs in the seventh, the Netherlands closed the gap to 8-6 in the eighth. Hainley Statia scored on a groundout to short, Kalian Sams hit an RBI single to center and Quintin De Cuba hit a single to right that scored Sams from third.

Chono drove in two runs in the ninth with a single to left, and Kazuhisa Makita retired the side to close out the game.

Japan went 5-1 in the first two rounds, losing only to Cuba.