Japan eyes semis berth behind Darvish

Inaugural Classic champs face rival Korea on Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET

Yu Darvish has not allowed a run through five innings in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

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SAN DIEGO -- Team Japan needs one more win to move on to the semifinals of the double-elimination World Baseball Classic this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

Next up is Korea on Tuesday night at PETCO Park. If the Japanese win, they qualify for a shot at defending their championship. If they lose, they get one more shot to advance on Wednesday night against Cuba.

Yu Darvish, the 22-year-old right-hander, will be on the mound for Japan vs. Korea left-hander Jung Keun Bong in the third game between the rivals this tournament. They split the first two at Tokyo Dome.

"I just have a feeling we will have to fight against Korea," Japanese manager Tatsunori Hara said on Monday. "I think we have very similar teams. Korea vs. Japan. Japan vs. Korea. Of course, we are rivals. There's no question about that."

In 2006, the rules were quite a bit different. Japan lost second-round games to the U.S. and Korea and finished in a three-way tie at the end of the round with Team USA and Mexico. Japan moved on to the semifinals at PETCO because of a complicated tiebreaking system of runs scored and runs against. Once there, they defeated the Koreans and then beat Cuba in the finals to secure the inaugural Classic championship.

Not so this time. In the double-elimination format, Japan was one of two teams to survive the first-round Asia bracket by winning their opening two games against China and Korea.

The first victory came behind Darvish and the next with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound. This time, it was Matsuzaka who took care of the Cubans on Sunday by pitching six innings of scoreless, five-hit ball with eight strikeouts in a 6-0 victory.

Now, it's undoubtedly Darvish's turn to shine.

"We were able to get through the first round," Hara said. "It was very good for Team Japan, and we knew we were going to go to San Diego. So that was very good for all of us. And now one more win and it's on to Los Angeles. And that for Team Japan was the biggest target."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.