America's national pastime took a major hit last night. On home turf, no less.
Japan advanced to tonight's title game against South Korea, a 10-2 winner over Venezuela in a semifinal late Saturday night. Cleveland Indians outfielder Choo Shin-Soo hit a three-run homer to cap a five-run first inning for South Korea in that game.
Japan won the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, defeating Cuba in the final.
Akinori Iwamura's RBI triple was the key hit in a five-run fourth inning against starter Roy Oswalt, and the U.S. was handed its first loss to Japan in major international play since the 2005 World Cup.
The United States took a 2-1 lead after three innings on a leadoff homer in the first by the Orioles' Brian Roberts and David Wright's RBI double in the third.
Japan broke loose in the fourth, with the help of an error by Roberts at second base that made two of the runs unearned. Roberts was added to the U.S. roster before the second round, replacing the injured Dustin Pedroia.
The WBC has hardly been a showcase for the United States, despite having a roster loaded with major league stars.
Three years ago, the Americans were eliminated, 2-1, by Mexico in the second round of the tournament after beating Japan, 4-3, during pool play in Anaheim, Calif.
The Americans were the visiting team on a cold, blustery night in Los Angeles, having earned the designation by finishing second in Group 2. Japan won Group 1, with South Korea coming in second.
Matsuzaka, who pitched six shutout innings against Cuba on March 15, improved to 3-0 in this year's WBC. He went 3-0 and was selected tournament Most Valuable Player three years ago.
White Sox: : Right-hander Gavin Floyd (Mount St. Joseph) and Chicago agreed to a four-year, $15.5 million contract, a deal that includes a club option for 2013. Floyd, 26, was 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA for the White Sox last year and is 25-18 in 73 games over parts of five major league seasons with the Phillies and White Sox.
Rays: : Injured outfielder B.J. Upton likely will miss the start of the regular season after he was hit in the hand by a pitch during a minor league spring training game Saturday. Tampa Bay already was determined not to rush the center fielder back from offseason surgery on his left, nonthrowing shoulder. The hand injury is not considered serious.
More Rays: : Further tests on Fernando Perez's dislocated left wrist revealed additional ligament damage, and the outfielder will be sidelined four to five months.
Brewers: : Milwaukee expects to start the season without new closer Trevor Hoffman, who strained his right oblique while pitching against Kansas City on March 13.
Athletics: : Manager Bob Geren is close to striking a deal with the club for a contract extension. Oakland assistant general manager David Forst told the Associated Press that the two parties were "in discussions, close to finalizing something."
Rangers: : Andruw Jones could stick with the team through spring training, even though he won't be a starter and there is no guarantee of his making the team. During a meeting, the five-time All-Star said he would be willing to remain with Texas as a backup outfielder and part-time designated hitter.
Astros: : Third baseman Aaron Boone will have open-heart surgery Thursday at the Stanford University Medical Center. Dr. D. Craig Miller will perform the procedure to correct a problem with Boone's aorta and aortic valve.