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USA opens Round 2 with win on A-Rod's clutch hit

RECAP | BOX SCORE

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Even the Americans figured they caught a
break.

Alex Rodriguez hit a bases-loaded, two-out single in the ninth
to give the United States a 4-3 victory over Japan on Sunday in the
opener of Round 2 in the inaugural World Baseball Classic after the
losers appeared to be deprived of the go-ahead run.

It looked as though Japan broke a 3-3 tie against Joe Nathan in
the eighth when Akinori Iwamura flied to left with one out and the
bases loaded. Tsuyoshi Nishioka beat Randy Winn's throw home, and
second base umpire Brian Knight ruled safe when Team USA appealed
the play. But plate umpire Bob Davidson overruled the call
following a brief discussion with the other umpires.

"The wrong umpire made the initial call," Davidson said in a
statement issued afterward. "That's the plate umpire's call. I had
it lined up. It's my call, and I had him leaving early and called
him out."

Davidson is one of 22 major league umpires who lost their jobs
in the 1999 labor dispute. He's now a minor league ump who fills in
at the big-league level.

"It gave us a huge lift. I mean, it changes the game," said
Team USA first baseman Derrek Lee, who hit a two-run homer in the
sixth to tie the game. "You don't see a call like that overturned
very often, so we definitely got a gift right there.

"But we'll take it, it worked out for us."

It didn't appear Nishioka left before Winn made the catch on the
television replay, and Japan manager Sadaharu Oh argued to no
avail.

"It's just unimaginable that this could have happened, or this
did happen, in the U.S. where baseball is very famous and
popular," Oh said through a translator. "And it's a pity that it
was overruled."

Team USA manager Buck Martinez said he didn't know if he's ever
had a call like that reversed.

"I know I've appealed a play once in Fenway on a very similar
type of play, once in Seattle," he said. "That was a good feeling
today to have that one go in our favor. I had a really good look at
it. Everybody on the bench reacted the same way, which validates
what I thought was happening."

Japan loaded the bases in the top of the ninth on three walks
before winner Brad Lidge, Team USA's sixth pitcher, struck out
Hiyoshi Tamura to end the inning.

Vernon Wells opened the bottom half with his third hit and Winn
sacrificed, but reached first when second baseman Nishioka drew an
error for coming off the base while catching third baseman Akinori
Iwamura's throw.

Loser Kyuji Fujikawa threw out Wells at third on Michael Young's
attempted sacrifice, and Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch to load the
bases.

Ken Griffey struck out before Rodriguez appeared to be jammed on
a 1-1 pitch, but his grounder got past Fujikawa and Nishioka's
sliding attempt behind second was unsuccessful as Winn scored from
third.

The run was unearned because of Nishioka's error. Rodriguez went
2-for-5, making him 7-of-14 in the Classic.

"It was the first opportunity of this sort that I had, and that
was definitely good," he said. "I definitely felt very proud."

Chipper Jones also homered for the Americans and Ichiro Suzuki
homered for Japan.

An announced crowd of 32,896 attended the opener of Round 2.
South Korea beat Mexico 2-1 Sunday night before a crowd of 42,979
at Angel Stadium, where single games will be played Monday through
Thursday to complete the second round.

The fans began a "USA! USA!" chant for the first time in the
game with one out and one on in the sixth, and Lee responded a few
pitches later by hitting a 3-1 delivery from Naoyuki Shimizu over
the left-center field fence.

Shimizu was called twice for going to his mouth while on the
mound -- an automatic ball -- shortly before Lee connected. The first
came before a 2-1 pitch to Jones, who walked, and the second prior
to the first pitch to Lee.

Suzuki, not known for his power, hit Jake Peavy's third pitch of
the game into the right-field bleachers to give Japan a 1-0 lead.

Japan made it 3-0 in the second on a two-out, two-run single by
Munenori Kawasaki, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup. Jones led off
the bottom half by hitting a 3-1 pitch from Koji Uehara into the
right-center field seats for his second WBC homer, making it 3-1.

"Derrek Lee's home run was the biggest blow of the game because
we felt like if we could just get the game tied and turn it over to
our bullpen, we would scratch out a run somewhere," Jones said.
"The bullpen was a little shaky there in the eighth and ninth, but
those guys bowed their necks and made pitches when they had to and
we got the benefit of a call.

"It's a shame that that play is the one everybody's going to
talk about, because it was a well-played game on both sides and
both teams should be commended and applauded."

Peavy, who worked three scoreless innings in Team USA's 2-0
first-round victory over Mexico, gave up three runs and five hits
in five innings. He used 67 pitches and settled down after a rocky
start, retiring nine of his last 10 batters.

Uehara allowed seven hits and one run in five innings, using 75
pitches. The pitch count is up to 80 from 65 in the first round.

Dontrelle Willis will start Monday night when Team USA faces
South Korea, and Roger Clemens is scheduled to pitch Thursday for
the Americans against Mexico.

The WBC semifinals will be played Saturday in San Diego, where
the winners will meet for the championship of the inaugural Classic
two days later.