Japan beat the U.S. in a WBC semifinal at Dodger Stadium in 2009.In a tournament marked by high scores and sunny skies, this game was decided by the pitchers and the weather.Tanner Roark and six relievers combined to limit Japan to one run. Luke Gregerson pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the save.Japan’s starter, right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano, allowed only one unearned run in six innings. Using a high-spin fastball and curveball, along with an effective cutter and slider, Sugano struck out six batters, walked one and allowed a mere three singles.The U.S. put just enough balls in play in the fourth inning to score its first run. With one out, Christian Yelich hit a routine grounder to slick-fielding second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi. The ball skipped off the damp turf, off Kikuchi’s glove and into center field. Yelich took second base on the error. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error After Nolan Arenado struck out and Eric Hosmer drew a walk, Andrew McCutchen lined a single into left field. Yelich scored easily and the U.S. had the game’s first run.Roark threw four scoreless innings for the U.S. The Washington Nationals’ right-hander allowed only two singles and one walk in his second appearance of the WBC.Japan’s only threat came in the first inning when leadoff man Tetsuto Yamada — his jersey top, really — was hit by a Roark fastball. Yamada went to third on a bunt and a groundout, then Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh lined out to left field to end the inning.As the rain grew more intense, the dirt moistened and the air thickened. Any fly ball that would have reached the warning track on a hot day died a premature death. During a pair of video reviews in the third inning, the grounds crew added fresh dirt to the mound and the batter’s box.But by the sixth inning, the light rain had given way to a more traditional marine layer. Roark was done for the night, replaced on the mound by Nate Jones, a right-hander for the Chicago White Sox. And Kikuchi stood in the batter’s box looking to make amends for his fielding error.With the count 1-and-2, Kikuchi fouled off a 99-mph fastball, Jones’ fastest pitch of the night. The next pitch was clocked at 98 mph and the ball left Kikuchi’s bat at a cool 100, disappearing over the right field wall above McCutchen’s glove. The score was tied at 1. LOS ANGELES >> Dodger Stadium will host the championship game of the World Baseball Classic for the second time Wednesday. This time, the host country will have a chance to win the tournament on its own turf.Team USA beat Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night before an announced crowd of 33,462. Now an undefeated Puerto Rico squad, which beat the U.S. in San Diego last Friday, awaits.Tied 1-1 in the top of the eighth inning, Brandon Crawford singled and Ian Kinsler doubled against Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga to put runners on second and third. The next batter, Adam Jones, tapped a weak ground ball to third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda. Kinsler took off on contact and scored without a throw when Matsuda momentarily lost his handle on the ball.The RBI groundout wasn’t as photogenic as Jones’ home run-robbing catch in the stands in a semifinal game against the Dominican Republic on Saturday. But it was no less important to Team USA reaching its first WBC championship game.
Questions, questions, questions.Everywhere you looked Tuesday at Staples Center there were questions confronting the Lakers.Maybe they found some answers Tuesday, maybe they didn’t.Maybe their stunning 116-103 win over the Clippers means something; maybe it means nothing at all. But it does make you raise your eyebrows, even just a little bit.How can you not when a young, explosive bench combines for 76 points and hustles its way to a 41-point fourth quarter while limiting the Clippers to 24?“They’ve been doing it. They showed it in preseason and exhibition games,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They’ve been good. They’ve turned a gas on.”They did.Not that we paid any attention. But maybe we should have.Or to young, athletic forward Xavier Henry who hustled and slithered and shot his way to a career-high 22 points; or Jordan Farmar and his 16 points and six assists in relief of Steve Nash; or Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol combining for 25 points and 21 rebounds; and Jodie Meeks adding 13 points and Nick Young 13?All of them smiling and high-fiving and rushing to each other’s defense when the Clippers got a little too aggressive or were immediately nearby to extend a helping hand when a teammate went crashing to the floor.Amazing what can happen when guys actually like each other, right?Or when players embrace being here and willingly carry out their coaches’ orders and play for each other rather than against one another.When you have that going for you the possibilities are endless, even if only for one night.“Chemistry means a lot and they’re good guys and very coachable,” D’Antoni said. “They want to win and are doing everything right. When you do that, they have a chance. You don’t need one guy to be a star every night.”The Lakers might turn around and lose their next three games, but when the lights flashed on opening night Tuesday and their Staples Center neighbor Clippers looked contritely upon them, almost as if they felt sorry for them, they showed that chemistry, young legs, and a willingness to play collectively still goes a long way.“We’ve been together every day in the gym a month before training camp, playing with each other, working out with each other,” Henry said. “We know each other well. I love our attitude. Our attitude is the biggest thing we have going. We have guys who are ready to go get it. We’re hungry and we want to beat somebody up.”Questions? Yes.Too many to consider in this year of uncertainty.Too many that need positive answers to seriously consider a playoff spot.You would think, right?But dare we believe something much grander is possible after the fourth quarter explosion we saw Tuesday and the chemistry the Lakers showed?Dare we?Painfully, one of the primary answers was dressed in a purple sweatsuit in the locker room 90 minutes before the Lakers tipped off their new season against the Clippers — and still weeks, if not months, away from providing any help.And just as quickly as Kobe Bryant was spotted he disappeared, vanishing to the refuge of the Lakers’ players lounge as soon as reporters were allowed inside.And invisible he remained until a minute or so into the second quarter when he joined his teammates behind the Lakers’ bench, stylishly dressed in a custom-fitted black suit as he sat next to team doctor Steven Lombardo.It was a nice pick-me up for the Lakers, although it’s debatable what’s more tortuous.Not having a healthy Bryant as they take the first steps in a season rife with uncertainty, or not having Bryant and continually seeing him sitting there on the bench — knowing how different things would be with him on the court.Maybe out of sight and out of mind might be the ideal play here, at least on game nights.In any event, the Lakers will carry on without him for now, for whatever that is worth.And hope Gasol, no longer burdened by the ominous, angry presence of Dwight Howard or the Lakers need to appease him, reverts back to the All-Star player he once was and Nash stays healthy long enough to quarterback this thrown-together roster and Chris Kaman rebounds from two down seasons and the young legs of Young and Farmar and Henry and Wesley Johnson are spry enough to carry out D’Antoni’s run-at-all-costs mandate.If all that happens, and if Bryant eventually returns at or near the level he was before the injury, the Lakers just might have enough to scratch and claw their way to the necessary amount of wins to make the playoffs.“Without a doubt,” D’Antoni insisted.Before immediately qualifying his optimism, of course.“Again, with question marks,” he said. “If Steve is around. Is Pau an All-Star? Does Kaman come back will Nick Young find his footing.”And if none of that happens? Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error