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U.S. books ticket to WBC semifinals with stars rising to the occasion

SAN DIEGO -- With a trip to the World Baseball Classic semifinals at stake for both teams, Petco Park was sold out for Saturday night's game between the United States and the Dominican Republic. The 43,002 fans were excited, with the Americans loudly chanting "USA! USA!" They'll have a chance to chant it again next week at Dodger Stadium after watching the U.S. beat the Dominican Republic 6-3 to advance to the final round.

The fans also could have shouted "Giancarlo! Giancarlo!" and "Adam! Adam!"

After singling and scoring Team USA's first run of the game to begin a comeback in the third inning, Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run homer to give the Americans a 4-2 lead in the fourth. San Diego native Adam Jones helped protect that lead by making a fantastic leaping catch against the center-field fence to rob Orioles teammate Manny Machado of a home run in the seventh.

"I'm still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball. I mean, off the bat I'm just like this ball's hit really far, so just keep going, keep going," Jones said. "You know this California air's going to slow it down, and just never quit. That's just the style I play with. I don't mind running into a wall or two. I just kept going after the ball."

He added that, considering how Machado made a strong defensive play to throw him out on a grounder to third base in the first inning, Jones' catch evened things up with his teammate.

The U.S. will play in the WBC semifinals for just the second time in the history of the tournament, which started in 2006.

Three key things to know:

1. Rough start, strong rally: The U.S. has been criticized for not showing nearly as much fire and passion on the field as other countries in the WBC. But the players say they play with the same fire, they just keep it hidden inside.

Team USA was facing the reigning WBC champions for the second time this tournament. The two faced off last weekend in Miami, with the U.S. taking a 5-0 lead into the sixth inning, only to lose the game. This time, the Americans fell behind early but rallied back.

The U.S. gave up two runs in the first inning after shortstop Brandon Crawford bobbled a grounder and then threw wildly to first base. Starting pitcher Danny Duffy also threw a wild pitch on a strikeout that helped the Dominican Republic score two runs that inning. The Dominicans threatened to blow the game open the next inning when Gregory Polanco singled and Welington Castillo doubled to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Duffy, however, retired the next two batters on a popup and a short fly out, then got Robinson Cano to ground out.

The Americans came back right after that. Stanton singled to lead off the third inning and scored on a fielder's choice grounder by Ian Kinsler. Christian Yelich then doubled home Kinsler to tie the game.

Stanton gave the U.S. the lead in the fourth inning by slamming a two-run homer that sailed over the fence at an estimated 113 mph.

It was the second comeback this round by the U.S., which rallied to beat Venezuela in the latter innings of Wednesday’s game in San Diego.

2. Not quite enough Platano Power: The Dominicans, meanwhile, are very passionate on the field. They also are well-known for the Platano Power bit started by reliever Fernando Rodney when they won the 2013 WBC. Several fans could be seen holding and waving the fruit (or inflatable replicas of it) in the stands.

Having rallied last week in Miami, the Dominicans had a chance to come back in the seventh inning when Machado drilled a pitch to deep center, only to have Jones leap, extend his glove over the fence and catch the ball. Machado doffed his cap in honor of the catch by his Baltimore teammate.

Cano followed with a drive to left field that cleared the fence for a home run that narrowed the gap to 4-3.

The U.S. re-extended the lead the next inning, though, when Andrew McCutchen doubled home two runs, showing that the Americans play hard as well. They also pitched well, allowing just two earned runs.

Rather than defend their WBC championship, the Dominicans now will head back to their spring training camps.

3. Next up, Japan. Again: The only other time the U.S. reached the WBC semifinals, in 2009, it played Japan at Dodger Stadium and lost 9-4 to starter Daisuke Matsuzaka. Interestingly, the Americans will play Japan again in the semifinal game Tuesday, though they will not be facing Dice-K this time.

They will try to reach the championship game for the first time.

Asked which starting pitcher the U.S. would use against Japan, manager Jim Leyland said, "I'm not prepared just yet to talk about my starter. So I'm just going to hold off on that a little bit."