Hara had hoped that Murata would be mobile enough to meet him in the manager's hotel room, but instead the manager went to him."I talked to Murata this morning. He was in a wheelchair," Hara said. "I told him, 'You played very well in this tournament. But from today on, the rest of the 27 players and the new one will fight for Japan. So when you're home, cheer us from there.' " Murata singled to open the fourth inning of Thursday night's 6-2 victory over Korea at PETCO Park, and obviously sustained the injury just before he reached the first-base bag, pulling up and grabbing at the back of his right leg. He was escorted from the field with the help of several teammates. The loss of Murata is a serious one to Japan's offense. Murata was Japan's best pure power hitter, having played in all seven games, batting .320 (8-for-25) with two homers and seven RBIs. That's half of the homers Japan has hit as a team in the first two rounds. The other two were hit by Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima and Seiichi Uchikawa, who homered against Korea in the second inning on Thursday night. Murata led Japan's Central League with 46 homers last season after leading it with 36 in 2007, adding 114 RBIs in '08. He's a lifetime .270 hitter, with 180 homers and 505 RBIs in his six pro seasons. The Japanese are batting .286, sixth among the 16 teams that started the tournament and third among the remaining four teams, ahead of Korea's .251. The U.S. is hitting .303, with 11 homers and 46 runs scored, 10 more than the Japanese, who rank dead last in that category among the four teams remaining. But Japan's pitching has been fabulous, with a Classic second-best 1.20 ERA, eight earned runs in seven games, including none in two wins over Cuba. The Dominicans, who didn't make it out of the first round, have the only staff better, having allowed just five earned runs in three games (an 0.31 ERA). The U.S., in contrast, has a staff ERA of 6.18, having allowed 41 earned runs in seven games. Hara has been playing the righty-swinging Murata mostly at third base in the tournament, although on Thursday night, Murata started at first, with Yasuyuki Kataoka at third. In the other three second-round games, the left-handed-swinging Michihiro Ogasawara started at first base. "We've got plenty of options," Hara said. "We've already gone from a Plan A to a Plan B. We will be OK." Murata is the only player the Japanese have lost to injury in the first two rounds of the Classic, as opposed to the U.S., which lost Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Matt Lindstrom during the second round alone. David Wright (broken nail on his left big toe) and Ryan Braun (right oblique strain) also go into the semifinal matchup against Japan ailing, but they are available. It is no small irony that Team USA must also find a replacement for Youkilis, who twisted his ankle during the Americans' come-from-behind, ninth-inning victory over Puerto Rico at Miami on Wednesday night that clinched one the four semifinal berths. Youkilis had three homers and six RBIs in six games. Team USA manager Davey Johnson tried Adam Dunn at the position during a loss to Venezuela on Thursday night. But after Dunn made a pair of errors, he's being moved back to right field for Sunday's tilt. Johnson plans to start at first base Mark DeRosa, who's played 13 of his 785 games over the course of 11 seasons at that position. Third baseman Evan Longoria replaced Jones on the roster. "I could have used somebody to play first base, because we've had injuries over there. That's more critical," Johnson said. "But we're in good shape. We're going to be in good shape on Sunday."
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.