Kazuma Okamoto Powers Japan into WBC Semifinals

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani lays down a surprising bunt in the third inning against Italy on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.

Yomiuri Giants slugger Kazuma Okamoto hit a three-run homer and drove in five runs to power Japan to a 9-3 victory over Italy in the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome.

With the victory, Japan earned a trip to Miami for a semifinal clash on Monday (Tuesday morning Japan time) against the winner of the quarterfinal between Mexico and Puerto Rico as it looks to regain the title it last won in 2009.

Japan starter Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels picked up the victory after giving up two runs on four hits over 4⅔ innings. He struck out five and walked one, but also hit two batters when Italy rallied for two runs in the fifth inning.

But Ohtani’s most eye-opening play of the day came at the plate, when the power-hitting two-way star surprisingly put down a bunt that ended up as an infield hit and led to Japan’s first run in a four-run third inning.

Okamoto, playing in his home stadium, capped the third-inning outburst with his first home run of the tournament, in which Japan won all four of its Pool B games.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami, the Central League Triple Crown batting champion last season who was dropped from cleanup to fifth in the lineup, broke out of his WBC slump with his first RBI hit, doubling in a run in a three-run fifth inning.

The Boston Red Sox’s Masataka Yoshida homered to lead off the seventh inning.