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Captain Shinnosuke Abe fired two home runs in the same inning Tuesday as two-time defending champions Japan beat the Netherlands 10-6 to gain an edge for the World Baseball Classic's final round.
Abe added four runs in the second inning as Japan came back from 0-1 down to seize control 8-1. They then halted a late Dutch comeback when Hisayoshi Chono's single earned two runs in the bottom of the eighth.
The result means Japan qualify top for this month's semi-finals in San Francisco, and will play a runner-up team, while the surprise-package Netherlands will face a pool winner.
"We scored eight runs to take an 8-1 lead in the second inning, but we couldn't add another run afterwards. But Chono hit a timely single to stretch the lead again. I'm happy about it," said Japan's head coach Koji Yamamoto.
"Especially, Shinnosuke's two home runs were great."
Japan lost to Cuba in their last game of round one but they have now won three in a row to raise hopes of a third straight title. The Netherlands have reached the final round for the first time after upset wins over Cuba and South Korea.
The Dutch got off to a flying start when opening batter Andrelton Simmons hit a solo home run to open the scoring in the first inning.
But Japan quickly levelled it 1-1 thanks to Abe's solo homer in the second. Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a single for 2-1, Chono hit a three-run single for a 5-1 and Abe fired a three-run homer to stretch the lead to 8-1.
Xander Bogaerts hit an infield single to pull one back for the Netherlands for 2-8 in the seventh inning, and then Randolph Oduber added another run with a sacrifice fly to the right field for 3-8.
Curt Smith added another run while he grounded out to the short for 4-8, Kalian Sams made it 5-8 by hitting a single to the centre and Quintin De Cuba cracked another single for 6-8.
But in the bottom of the eighth, Chono's single to the left to gave Japan two more runs to consolidate their victory and take the game out of reach.
"We have two more games to go. We will do our best to reach the summit of the tournament," said Yamamoto.