After opening in Toronto and then feeling like the visiting team in Miami, the United States hopes its first appearance in the World Baseball Classic's final four gets the attention of Americans.
LOS ANGELES — After opening in Toronto and then feeling like the visiting team in Miami, the United States hopes its first appearance in the World Baseball Classic's final four gets the attention of Americans.
"In Miami, there were more U.S. fans than there were in Canada," Derek Jeter said Friday. "The Latin fans were louder; they brought their drums, singing songs, jumping up and down, so you probably heard them a little bit more."
The WBC concludes with the semifinals and final at Dodger Stadium at the same time much of the country is caught up in the early rounds of the NCAA men's and women's college basketball tournaments.
"We expect to have more fan support come this round," infielder David Wright said, "because I think just the general baseball fan is seeing the kind of intensity and focus and desire that we have to win and hopefully that catches on."
U.S. manager Davey Johnson said Roy Oswalt will start for the Americans in their semifinal against Japan on Sunday night. Oswalt pitched four scoreless innings when the United States avoided elimination by beating the Netherlands 9-3 last Sunday.
Japan manager Tatsunori Hara declined to announce his starter, although it will be Daisuke Matsuzaka's turn in the rotation Sunday.
"No comment," Hara said in English before resuming Japanese. "I guess the media and the fans are probably most interested in that, but what's most important to us right now is to win. So I would like to just keep within the rules and fight on."
Matsuzaka hasn't pitched since throwing six brilliant innings in a 6-0 win against Cuba on Sunday. The Boston Red Sox ace is 5-0 in five appearances during two WBCs. He's 2-0 this year after going 3-0 in leading Japan to the inaugural WBC championship in 2006, when he was named tournament MVP.
Jeter is familiar with Matsuzaka through the intense rivalry between their major league teams, the New York Yankees and Red Sox.
But Wright, who plays for the New York Mets in the National League, has never faced the Boston ace.
"We will be leaning on the AL East guys a lot," Wright said. "Having some AL East guys is going to help, go over scouting reports and some tendencies."
South Korea and Venezuela will meet in the first semifinal on Saturday night. Carlos Silva will start for Venezuela, which used its roster loaded with major leaguers to win Group Two.
The Japan-U.S. semifinal is a rematch of the bronze-medal game at last summer's Beijing Olympics, which the U.S. won 8-4 under Johnson's coaching. Japan hasn't defeated the United States since the 2005 World Cup in the Netherlands.
Hara singled out Johnson and U.S. hitting coach Reggie Smith as two people he respects. Johnson played for Japan's Yomiuri Giants in the mid-1970s.
"I would like to be able to fight against them, and Japan to be proud of us," Hara said.
Japan is trying to win its second WBC title, having beaten Cuba 10-6 in the inaugural championship game three years ago. The Japanese won the second-round group, defeating South Korea 6-2 Thursday night in San Diego.
But the victory proved costly, with Shuichi Murata injuring his right hamstring. He was replaced on the roster Friday by Kenta Kurihara, who was due to leave for Los Angeles on Saturday. Murata was batting .320 with two homers and seven RBIs.
In 2006, the U.S. was eliminated with a 2-1 loss to Mexico in the second round after the Americans beat Japan 4-3 during pool play in Anaheim.
"I don't think you try to win more just because you lost three years ago," Jeter said. "I never try to look at things as revenge."
The Americans come into the weekend hobbled by injuries. During the second round in Miami, they lost second baseman Dustin Pedroia (left side), first baseman Kevin Youkilis (sprained left ankle, left Achilles' tendinitis) and reliever Matt Lindstrom (strained right rotator cuff).
Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria was added to the U.S. roster Friday, replacing Chipper Jones, who had been bothered by a strain in his right side while going 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in the tournament.
"I'm not expecting to use him, he's an insurance policy," Johnson said. "I could have used somebody that could play first base because we've had injuries over there, a little more critical to the team. But we're going to be in good shape on Sunday."
Johnson selected Oswalt over San Diego's Jake Peavy, who would start Monday night's title game if the Americans advance.
"Roy seemed to be farther along than Jake," Johnson said. "Either choice was fine with me. Decided to go with Roy and come back with Jake, give him extra time."
Oswalt pitched four scoreless innings when the United States avoided elimination by beating the Netherlands 9-3 last Sunday. The right-hander is the team's leading pitcher, with 7.2 innings and six strikeouts.
Oswalt watched some of Thursday's game between South Korea and Japan to check out the hitters.
"The thing about Japan is they have two or three hitters that play in the big leagues, so we have a little bit of a scouting report on them, where the other guys fill the game out as it goes," he said.
The pitch limits that were in place for the tournament's first two rounds increase to 100 per game in the semis and finals.
"I don't make that call, but I should be able to go 100 pitches," Oswalt said.
Wright donated the bat he used to end Tuesday's 6-5 elimination game victory over Puerto Rico to the baseball Hall of Fame. His two-RBI single off Fernando Cabrera capped a three-run comeback in the ninth inning.
"I don't think I've ever had so many text messages and phone calls after a game," Wright said. "No matter what team you play for or who your favorite team is in the big leagues, you're talking about representing your country. That'll be a memory for me that lasts a lifetime."