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Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

WORLD UNIVERSITY BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP

Springer's grand slam carries U.S. to semifinal win


Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Yuki Saito was the pitcher who entered the semifinals on a quest for redemption. One big hit by George Springer made sure Sonny Gray was the one who left with it.

News photo
Rough outing: Japan's Yuki Saito allows four earned runs in the first inning against the United States in the 5th World University Baseball Championship semifinals on Thursday at Yokohama Stadium. The U.S. beat Japan 4-2. KYODO PHOTO

Springer hit a grand slam off Saito in the first inning to back a solid outing by Gray as the United States advanced to the final of the 5th World University Baseball Championship with a 4-2 win over Japan on Thursday at Yokohama Stadium.

"Saito is a phenomenal pitcher," Springer said. "He made some great pitches all game, and I hit one. I just hit one in a big spot and the rest is history."

Saito had set beating the U.S. as one of his goals entering the tournament. The Waseda University senior will end his college career without ever beating the Americans in this particular event.

"We had Saito take the mound and we were determined to win this game," Japan manager Tamotsu Enomoto said. "But we gave up four runs and that decided the game. I thought we would still have a chance to win if we scored another run. But we failed to make that happen and I give the credit to the United States."

Japan did not make Saito available to the media following the game.

Saito retired the first batter he faced, then walked Nolan Fontana, gave up a single to Jackie Bradley and hit Ryan Wright to load the bases.

Springer followed by crushing the first pitch he saw, sending it soaring over the left-field wall for a grand slam.

"He threw a splitter that just didn't split," Springer said. "It was just up in the zone and I hit it."

The two teams last squared off in Game 5 of the USA vs. Japan Collegiate Championships on July 16, 2009, at Jingu Stadium. Japan won that game 8-7 in the 11th inning, with Gray taking the loss.

Gray fared much better the second time around, keeping the Japanese hitters off balance and preventing them from mounting a comeback. Only Koichiro Matsumoto, Yuichi Hasegawa and Toshihito Abe recorded hits against Gray.

"He's got better control of his pitches and his fastball had more movement on it compared to last year," Enomoto said. "That made it hard for us to focus on certain pitches."

Gray got off to a rough start, but shined down the stretch, allowing two runs — one earned — on three hits and striking out six over seven innings.

"Game 5 last year was probably something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Gray said "Being selected for this team again, I knew I would get to face Japan again. Tonight happened to be the night.

"It definitely makes last year feel a little better. But we still haven't done what we came here to do. We still have one more step to take."

That final step will be a big one, as the Americans will face Cuba in the final. The Cubans have been the best team of the tournament, scoring in double digits in all four of their games, including a 11-1 romp over South Korea in the semifinals.

"We've been playing our baseball," Cuban manager Eduardo Martin said. "We don't plan to change anything."

The U.S. can capture its third straight title in the event, which has been held every two years since 2002, with a victory on Saturday at Jingu Stadium.

Gerrit Cole will get the start for the Americans while Cuba is expected to send Ismel Jimenez to the mound. The loss sends Japan into a matchup against South Korea in the third-place game.

U.S. manager Bill Kinneberg said he planned to enjoy Thursday's win and worry about Cuba when he wakes up on Friday. After the effort his team gave, the U.S. skipper should sleep well.

That won't be the case for his counterpart.

"Ever since I took the reins, I've wanted to get a win over the United States," Enomoto said. "For now, I've got no feelings other than regret. I won't be able to sleep well for awhile."

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.

Ellsbury activated

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Red Sox have activated outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the 15-day disabled list.

Ellsbury was in center field for Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Indians and batting leadoff. He received a big cheer before his first at-bat, when he popped out to second base.



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