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U.S. can clinch a medal-round berth

United States sets sights on berth in medal round

BEIJING -- The United States and Japan each can clinch the two remaining berths and join unbeatens Cuba and Korea in the semifinal round of the Summer Olympics by winning their simultaneous games on Tuesday night at the Wukesong Baseball Fields.

The U.S. (3-2) blew out China, 9-1, in a game on Monday night that was as eventful as it was mismatched. Brandon Knight will start at 7 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) on the Main Field against Chinese Taipei, the only team China has beaten in these Games. Japan (3-2) will play China next door at Field 2 in the 6 p.m. game.

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The U.S. will have to play without outfielder Matt LaPorta, who will miss the game with a mild concussion after being hit in the head during Monday's game against China.

U.S. manager Davey Johnson said, "LaPorta is out and will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.

"He said he was dizzy last night and we didn't want to take a chance. We have plenty of outfielders."

Barring a big upset on Tuesday, the stage is set for a Wednesday night showdown between USA and Japan that would determine the semifinal matchups on Friday. Cuba and Korea play each other at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and that most likely will determine the No. 1 seed that will play the No. 4 seed in one of the semifinal games.

The two semifinal losers will play at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday to determine the bronze medal, and the two winners will meet at 6 p.m. that night to decide which country gets the gold and which country gets the silver.

"We came here to get in the medal round, so [Tuesday] is huge," said Johnson, looking to add an Olympic championship to a repertoire that includes World Series titles as a player with Baltimore and manager with the Mets.

Knight, the veteran right-hander from the Mets organization, started the opening loss for the U.S. against Korea and was hit hard, allowing six runs on nine hits, and was chased after permitting five consecutive baserunners in the fifth inning.

Stephen Strasburg, the phenom from San Diego State who struck out 11 and threw seven innings of one-hit, scoreless ball in his first Olympics outing against the Netherlands, is on track to start against Japan.

"Every game we play is tough," said Johnson, whose team scuffled the first four innings against China before finally breaking it open with three runs in the fifth. "We had an easy game against the Netherlands, but other than that, all the games seem like they're going to be one-run games."

Chinese Taipei has had a disappointing Olympiad so far, but any of these eight teams are at minimum "dangerous." Consider what just happened on Monday. Korea took a 7-0 lead in the first inning, and then added another run for good measure in the second on the way to what looked like a 10-run, mercy-rule game in progress. But Chinese Taipei showed patience at the plate, worked one walk after another and somehow rallied all the way back to tie the score at 8-8 in the sixth.

Korea took the 9-8 lead in the seventh as star reliever Chih-Chia Chang entered the game with two on and gave up an RBI single to Minho Kang. Chinese Taipei squandered a handful of opportunities in the final innings. Considering just how good Korea has looked in this tournament, that makes it highly unlikely the U.S. will look ahead to Japan.

One of the players who had big RBI hits during that frantic comeback against Korea was 19-year-old center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin, who has a connection to Cooperstown after making headlines last month during All-Star Week at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox outfield prospect was 2-for-2 with a two-run homer in the World's 3-0 victory over the U.S. in the XM All-Star Futures Games. His red-and-white bat was sent to the Hall of Fame after that game. And he's not the only prospect in an MLB organization.

"You do know they'll be bringing a stronger team, because they now have several players in the Minors, so you know they're getting better," USA Baseball scout Mike Larson said. "The more players you can get to face at higher levels of competition, the better you become."

With one more double in this game, third baseman Terry Tiffee can break the record he now shares with Brett Abernathy for most doubles (six) by a U.S. player during the Olympics. Abernathy's mark was set in the 2000 Olympics, won by the U.S. in Sydney. At this rate, it looks like there will be extra opportunities for Tiffee.

For Chinese Taipei (1-4) to advance, it would have to win its remaining two games and the U.S. would have to lose both of its games. It would share an identical 3-4 record with the U.S. and would advance by virtue of head-to-head against the U.S.

For China (1-4) to advance, it would have to win its remaining two games and Japan would have to lose both of its games. It would share an identical 3-4 record with Japan and would advance by virtue of head-to-head against the U.S.

The Netherlands and Canada are both 1-4 as well, but have been eliminated from medal contention because of head-to-head losses against the U.S. and Japan, who could finish no worse than tied with them. The Netherlands and Canada play each other on Tuesday, and then the former closes its preliminaries against Korea on Wednesday while the latter finishes up against Chinese Taipei.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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