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Baseball: Japan thumps Cuba, Israel rides high at WBC

(Reuters) - Japan powered their way to victory over Cuba on Tuesday, while Israel took a giant step toward advancing at the World Baseball Classic with an offensive outburst of their own.

Japan, winners of the first two editions of the sport's premier international tournament, entertained a crowd of 45,000 at the Tokyo Dome with home runs from Nobuhiro Matsuda and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo to open Pool B play with an 11-6 win.

Third baseman Matsuda, who went 4-for-5 with four runs batted in, broke open a 2-1 game with a three-run homer in the fifth in a five-run inning that lifted Japan to a 7-1 lead over Cuba, who were runners-up to Japan in the inaugural 2006 WBC.

Israel, who stunned hosts South Korea with a 10-inning victory in the tournament's opening game on Monday, moved to 2-0 in Pool A play in Seoul with a 15-7 thrashing of Taiwan that virtually assured them of reaching Round Two in Tokyo.


Taking charge from the start, Israel began the game with four consecutive hits and scored four runs in the top of the first. Starter Corey Baker held Taiwan hitless until the fourth.

Ryan Lavarnway added a two-run homer in the third inning and Nate Freiman capped the offensive assault with a three-run shot in the ninth as the winners amassed 20 hits.

South Korea, a WBC finalist and semi-finalist in past WBCs, slumped to 0-2 in Pool A as they were shut out 5-0 by the Netherlands, who reached the final four of the last WBC in 2013.

Jurickson Profar, one of four major league infielders on the team from the Caribbean island of Curacao, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, belted a two-run homer in the first as the Dutch won their opener ahead of Wednesday's date against Israel.

Former major league starter Rick van den Hurk, who spent the past two seasons pitching in Japan, allowed the Koreans three hits over four innings and four relievers finished off the shutout before a stunned crowd at the Gocheok Sky Dome.

The top two teams in each four-team pool advance to the second round, which will be staged in Tokyo and San Diego before shifting to Los Angeles for the four-team championship round ending on March 22.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Steve Keating)