Superstar Shohei Ohtani wobbled after a flying start but Japan’s bats erupted to claim a place in the World Baseball Classic semi-finals Thursday with a 9-3 win over Italy.
Ohtani — Japan’s starting pitcher — held Italy scoreless for the first four innings but gave up two runs in the fifth before he was taken out of the game.
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Japan still had enough firepower to get the job done, with Kazuma Okamoto hitting a three-run home run in the third inning and finishing the game with five RBIs.
Masataka Yoshida also hit a solo home run for Japan, who have played all their games so far in Tokyo but will now travel to Miami for the semi-finals, where they will face either Puerto Rico or Mexico.
Japan have never failed to reach the last four since the competition began in 2006 and are looking to win their record third title.
Ohtani looked pumped up for the occasion and he threw a ferocious 102 mph (164 kph) strike in the second inning.
The two-way star also contributed with his bat, scoring a run in the third inning and getting on base with a defensive bunt.
But he started to run out of steam on the mound and got himself into trouble in the fifth, loading the bases before Dominic Fletcher singled to drive in two runs for Italy.
Ohtani was replaced immediately afterwards and Japan shrugged off any fears of letting the Italians back into the game an inning later.
Munetaka Murakami doubled to give Japan another run before Okamoto struck again to add two more.
Yoshida hit a solo home run in the eighth inning.
Major league star Yu Darvish pitched two innings of relief for Japan but gave up an eighth-inning home run to Fletcher.