UPDATE3: Japan downs Israel, advances to WBC final round with Netherlands
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo hit a tie-breaking home run and Japan went on to beat Israel 8-3 on Wednesday to secure a berth in the final round of the World Baseball Classic in the United States next week as the top finisher in Pool E.
Earlier at Tokyo Dome, the Netherlands clobbered Cuba 14-1 in a seven-inning mercy-rule win. After waiting for the results of the night game to determine their fate, the Dutchmen will join Japan in the semifinals in Los Angeles as group runners-up with a 2-1 record.
Israel, with a 1-2 record, and Cuba (0-3) were eliminated after the second round.
"I'm relieved we were able to win," Japan skipper Hiroki Kokubo said after the game. "I knew we were in an advantageous position to advance to the final round in the States but the game started out with a lot of nerves."
After five scoreless innings, cleanup hitter Tsutsugo led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo shot -- his third home run of the tourney -- into the center-field stands off Israel's first reliever, Dylan Axelrod.
"(Japan starter Kodai) Senga and (reliever Yoshihisa) Hirano had been pitching with good tempo and created a good momentum so I was able to hit the home run," said the DeNA BayStars slugger who ignited a five-run, five-hit inning that also took advantage of some sloppy fielding.
With one out and runners on first and second, Nobuhiro Matsuda doubled in a run and Seiji Kobayashi drove home a run with an infield hit. After Tetsuto Yamada was intentionally walked to load the bases, Ryosuke Kikuchi hit an RBI single to right, and Norichika Aoki was hit by a pitch with the bases still loaded to make it 5-0 for Japan.
In the eighth, Seiichi Uchikawa hit a two-run double down the left-field line to make it 7-0, and Matsuda added another run with an RBI single to center.
Senga held Israel to one hit in five innings. He walked one batter and hit one, while striking out four in his 63-pitch effort but did not figure in the decision. Hirano, who allowed one hit in 1-1/3 innings of relief, got the win.
Submarine right-hander Kazuhisa Makita took the mound in the top of the ninth and managed to close the game despite allowing three runs on three hits and a walk.
Two-time champion Japan, which now has six straight wins, including three from the first round, has made it through to the final round in all four editions of the WBC. In the last tournament in 2013, it lost in the semifinals to Puerto Rico, the eventual runner-up.
"We had a lot of effective home runs and our runners would aim for the next base whenever they found the space," Kokubo said, looking back at the way his men have played.
Josh Zeid, who closed for Israel in his three previous outings in pool play, started and scattered four hits in as many innings, with two walks and three strikeouts. The right-hander, who played for the Houston Astros in 2013-2014, finished the tournament with a 0.00 ERA.
Axelrod was tagged with the loss after allowing three runs on two hits and a walk in 1-plus innings.
"We lost to an excellent team today," said Israel manager Jerry Weinstein. "Japan is extremely well disciplined, outstanding pitching, they play well in every phase of the game. But more than anything else they're a true team, and they don't give anything away. Every at-bat is a tough one."
Earlier, the Netherlands, which beat Israel 12-2 in eight innings Monday, and Cuba had veteran Nippon Professional Baseball sluggers in the cleanup spot -- Wladimir Balentien of the Yakult Swallows and new SoftBank Hawk Alfredo Despaigne, respectively -- but it was the former who shone.
Balentien got the Dutch on board with a first-inning three-run home run off Cuban starter Lazaro Blanco and belted a solo shot in the third for a 5-0 lead before he had his fifth RBI with a single to make it 13-0 in the fifth.
"Every time you score first, you take pressures away from pitchers and we have players who can score," said Balentien, who was chosen MVP of Pool E with a batting average of .615 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
"I have to give those guys credit...as a cleanup hitter you always want to be in that situation where you can drive in runs."
Dutch starter Diegomar Markwell allowed a run over six innings on four hits and no walk in a 68-pitch effort against the Cuban team that was unable to recover from an 8-5 defeat to Japan the night before.
In second-round Pool F in San Diego, California, Puerto Rico won a rematch against the 2013 champ, beating the Dominican Republic 3-1. Former Yakult Swallow Orlando Roman started for Puerto Rico, allowing one run in 2-1/3 innings but did not figure in the decision.
The top two finishers of round-robin competitions in pools E and F go through to the final round in Los Angeles scheduled March 20-22.