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Big League Stew

Japan rallies past underdogs from Brazil, Netherlands cruises in WBC opening round

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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(AP)

Japan 5, Brazil 3: The ultimate underdogs from Brazil nearly stunned the world again on Saturday morning. Already a surprise qualifier in the tournament after knocking off Panama in November, Brazil took a 3-2 lead over two-time defending champions Japan into the eighth inning before the overwhelming favorites righted the ship with a three-run rally.

Of course Japan would do it all with small ball and excellent execution. After Seiichi Uchikawa led off the inning with a single, Yoshio Itoi would bunt him into scoring position. That set the stage for pinch-hitter Hirokazu Ibata to tie the game with an RBI single. After another single and a walk loaded the bases, manager Koji Yamamoto turned to another pinch-hitter in Shinnosuke Abe. He would drive home the go-ahead run on a fielder's choice. Nobuhiro Matsuda then added the insurance with a single to center.

Nothing fancy there at all. Just solid team baseball with contributions up and down the roster.

As for Brazil, this was certainly an admirable effort with the odds seemingly stacked against them. After the game manager Barry Larkin spoke to how proud he was of of the way his team competed, but he certainly wasn't surprised.

'These players love to compete,'' Larkin said. ''They love a challenge and this was a challenge similar to the qualifiers when we beat Panama. I'm extremely proud of the way my players performed in this game.''

It won't take us look to see how they'll bounce back from the tough loss. They'll be in action again tonight at 10:30 ET against 2006 tournament runner-up Cuba. Japan, on the other hand, gets a full 24 hours to relax. They'll face China at 5:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning as Pool A play continues.

Netherlands 5, Korea 0: The road wasn't any easier for Korea in Pool B play on Saturday morning. In fact, they were rolled by a fired up Netherlands squad.

Diegomar Markwell (4 IP), Orlando Yntema (3), Leon Boyd (1 2/3) and Mark Pawelek (1/3) combined on the four-hit shutout, striking out four hitters along the way. Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons led the charge offensively, collecting three hits and scoring twice. Washington Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina doubled and knocked home a pair in the win.

Netherlands will now face Chinese Taipei in Game 3 of Pool B at 1:30 a.m. ET Sunday morning. Both teams are 1-0 in the round robin format. Korea matches up next with Australia at 5:30 a.m. ET on Monday morning. The loser there becomes an extreme longshot to advance in the tournament.

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