(Reuters) - The United States tagged on an eighth-inning run to edge out Japan 2-1 at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday to advance to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) final for a first time.
Adam Jones provided the decisive play when he broke a keenly-contested 1-1 tie with a ground ball out to third base that scored Brandon Crawford and eliminated two-time WBC champions Japan at the semi-final stage.
“We’re one game away from doing something we’ve never done before,” American outfielder Andrew McCutchen said in an on-field interview. “This is awesome to have the opportunity to be here.”
The U.S. advances to face unbeaten Puerto Rico in the championship game at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.
The Puerto Ricans (7-0) edged Netherlands 4-3 in their semi-final on Monday to book a second straight trip to the finals after losing to the Dominican Republic in 2013. Seven U.S. pitchers combined to limit Japan, who were the only other undefeated team in the tournament prior to Tuesday’s loss.
Rght-hander Tanner Roark made his second appearance and first start of the event, giving up two hits and no runs in four innings before being replaced.
Luke Gregerson came on in the ninth to shut down Japan with three straight outs as he recorded his third save of the WBC.
McCutchen gave the Americans a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning on an RBI single, while Japan tied the contest with a sixth-inning home run from Ryosuke Kikuchi.
The winning run was set up when Crawford singled off Kodai Senga (1-1) with one out in the eighth, and Ian Kinsler followed with a double that brought Jones up to bat.
Japan starter Tomoyuki Sugano tossed six innings and allowed one run in the no-decision. The WBC has not always drawn many of the top American players to the competition but McCutchen was hopeful that this year’s run could help change that.
“We don’t focus on who’s not here we focus on who is here,” McCutchen said.
“Hopefully in the near future guys will want to play more after they see what we’re doing now.”
The finalist have already met in this year’s tournament when Puerto Rico edged the United States 6-5 at Petco Park, San Diego in a second round pool game last Friday.
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien