Power surge propels Japan over Dutch into semis
Reigning two-time champs launch six homers to tie Classic mark
Forget pitching and defense, on this night, Japan was digging the long ball.
Takashi Toritani led off the game with a home run, and the Japanese added five more to emphatically punch their ticket to the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic with a 16-4 thumping of the Kingdom of the Netherlands on Sunday night at Tokyo Dome. The game was called after the seventh inning due to the mercy rule.
"Everyone thinks the Japanese team plays small baseball," Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. "I didn't expect that we'd hit six home runs."
The victory gives Japan a 2-0 record in the second round and a berth in the final round of the Classic at San Francisco's AT&T Park. The semifinals are scheduled for March 17-18, with the title being decided on March 19.
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"We saw a very good hitting team come out today on the Japanese side," said Hensley Meulens, the manager of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. "Our pitchers kept the ball up today, and they capitalized on those mistakes. They didn't miss any of the balls we left up."
The Japanese offense erupted for 10 extra-base hits in the rout.
Japan had just two -- a pair of doubles by Yoshio Itoi -- after its first four games of the Classic, but had hit four home runs by the time the shellshocked Dutch came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth.
Toritani, among the least likely candidates to go deep, sent the second pitch of the game sailing into the seats in right.
"It was a huge home run," Yamamoto said. "The Netherlands has a strong offense. Toritani gave us a big, brave performance."
Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a two-run homer in the second and Seiichi Uchikawa used the long ball to bring in three more later in the inning. Atsunori Inaba continued the home-run parade with a solo blast in the third, and Itoi hit a three-run shot in the fourth.
Hayato Sakamoto added a grand slam in the seventh to give Japan its sixth home run, matching the single-game Classic record Cuba set in 2009.
The Japanese also scored runs on doubles by Matsuda and Shinnosuke Abe.
The win had to be a welcome change of pace for Japan's fans, who sweated through close games in the team's victories against Brazil, China and Chinese Taipei.
While Japan's hitters were busy knocking around Dutch pitching, starter Kenta Maeda was dominating the Kingdom of the Netherlands' batters.
"I was trying to not give up any extra-base hits," Maeda said. "I have to thank my offense. They scored first. That gave me confidence."
Maeda threw five scoreless innings to earn the win. The Hiroshima Carp ace struck out nine on 66 pitches and allowed only Curt Smith's second-inning single over five innings.
"He was as good as advertised," Meulens said, "good fastball, good slider, threw some good curveballs, kept us off balance and got a bunch of runs early. So he was cruising."
The win was the second of the Classic for Maeda, who beat China in the first round and has allowed two hits and struck out 15 over 10 innings in two starts.
"I got a great result in my last outing," Maeda said. "I think I pitched better [tonight]. My personal condition is getting better, and so far, tonight is the best."
The Dutch salvaged some measure of pride in the sixth on a three-run double by Wladimir Balentien, and an RBI single from Andruw Jones, both off reliever Tetsuya Utsumi.
Dutch starter Rob Cordemans allowed six runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings to take the loss.
Meulens came away from the game with a renewed admiration for Japan's pitchers.
"I think the pitchers work very hard over here, throwing a lot of pitches all the time, and they have really, really good control and they keep the ball down as you can see today with Maeda. He's probably one of the top pitchers here in Japan," Meulens said. "He doesn't make many mistakes at all. In fact, none of the guys make many mistakes, except the ball that was left a little up to Wladimir [in the seventh]."
The victory sends two-time defending champion Japan into the semifinals of the Classic. Cuba and the Kingdom of the Netherlands will square off in an elimination game on Monday to decide which of them will make the trek to the United States with the champions.
The Dutch will need to bounce back quickly against the Cubans, who looked formidable on Saturday during a 14-0 rout of Chinese Taipei that was stopped after the top of the seventh due to the mercy rule.
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.