Baseball: Japan manager pulls out all the stops to reach WBC semis

Samurai Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama was as good as his word in Thursday's World Baseball Classic quarterfinal victory, when he predicted it would be "all hands on deck" and unleashed the full power of his roster to crush Italy and reach the semis.

Even though the Italians had never reached the semifinals, Kuriyama took no chances against a team built around a core of American major and minor leaguers.

Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani started on the mound and cruised through three innings. When Ohtani began running out of steam, Kuriyama used his pitching depth to keep Italy at bay, running out four more pitchers and even giving two innings to his No. 2 starter, Yu Darvish.

"It really was a whole-team effort," Kuriyama said. "The plan was to take the pride of Japanese pitching and stick it to them."

"I suppose all the fans might have heard Shohei exerting himself on the mound with every pitch from the very start. It sent a message to every member of the team."

For the first time in the tournament, Kuriyama dropped struggling cleanup hitter Munetaka Murakami down in his batting order. The 23-year-old, who last year became Japan's youngest Triple Crown winner, led Japan in scoring with three runs from the No. 5 spot, with two doubles, a walk and an RBI.

Masataka Yoshida moved into the cleanup spot and owned it. He homered, scored twice and drove in two. And with the middle of the order frequently on base, No. 6 hitter Kazuma Okamoto made hay.

Okamoto homered, doubled, walked twice and drove in five runs, as Japan made the chance of an improbable Italy comeback even more unlikely.

With his team in the driver's seat, Kuriyama brought in a pair of stronger fielders, with substitute Tetsuto Yamada's slick play at second helping snuff out Italian rallies in the final two innings.

© Kyodo News