TORONTO (AP) – With big league stars on both sides and national pride at stake, the United States and Canada gave their World Baseball Classic opener an October feel.

Adam Dunn and Brian McCann each hit a two-run homer, and Team USA held off feisty Canada 6-5 on Saturday to avenge a surprising loss three years ago.

“This is a playoff atmosphere,” U.S. pitcher Jake Peavy said. “Everything is on the line, you’re doing everything you can to win and advance in this tournament, and playing for your country just takes that through the roof. It’s as good an atmosphere as it gets, I believe.”

Kevin Youkilis added a solo shot and J.J. Putz closed it out in a nervous ninth inning for Team USA, which was upset by Canada in the inaugural WBC.

Despite a roster loaded with major league All-Stars, that U.S. squad stumbled to a disappointing eighth-place finish – a big reason this club has talked about taking back America’s game.

The intensity was evident. A fired-up McCann yelled and embraced Putz near the mound after the New York Mets reliever stranded the potential tying run at second base when Jason Bay flied out.

“It was unbelievable,” Putz said. “That was definitely the loudest crowd I’ve ever been a part of. I haven’t pitched in the playoffs, so this is what I think playoff baseball would seem like. It was awesome out there.”

Jimmy Rollins, fresh off Philadelphia’s 2008 World Series title, said beating Canada felt like winning the opener of a postseason series.

“Out here it was opening day, but with the excitement and the importance of getting off to a good start, you could compare that to Game 1 of a World Series,” he said. “You want to get that first win out of the way and then you can take a deep breath.”

LaTroy Hawkins worked a scoreless inning for the win and Putz earned the save after allowing Joey Votto’s broken-bat RBI double in the ninth that cut it to 6-5 with one out. Putz then retired Justin Morneau on a grounder and got Bay on a fly to right.

Netherlands upsets Dominican Republic

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Missing an injured Alex Rodriguez and several other stars, the Dominican Republic flopped at the plate Saturday and was upset by the Netherlands 3-2 in their World Baseball Classic opener.

It was a startling loss for the heavily favored Dominicans, considered contenders to win the 16-team tournament. Now, they are one defeat from elimination in Group D pool play.

The Dominican Republic had a chance to tie it in the ninth inning after Willy Taveras drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Robinson Cano’s hit-and-run groundout. But the speedy Taveras was thrown out trying to steal third with slugger Hanley Ramirez at the plate.

Ramirez then walked and was trying to steal second when Leon Boyd threw a called third strike past Jose Bautista for the final out. Netherlands players rushed out of the dugout to celebrate, hugging and clapping after completing the upset with only three hits – all infield singles.

Major league veteran Sidney Ponson pitched four solid innings for the Netherlands, allowing two runs and five hits.

Miguel Tejada homered and Ramirez had a sacrifice fly for the Dominican Republic, which reached the semifinals of the inaugural WBC three years ago before losing to Cuba.

Next, the Dominican Republic will play the loser of Saturday’s game between Puerto Rico and Panama.

Ramirez, Tejada and Cano are among the big league stars on a Dominican roster that also includes David Ortiz, Jose Reyes and Pedro Martinez. Still, the Dominican Republic went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 overall.

Rodriguez, who played for the United States in 2006, was slated to anchor the Dominican Republic lineup before he was sidelined by a hip injury earlier in the week.

Japan routs South Korea

TOKYO – Ichiro Suzuki broke out of a slump Saturday as defending champion Japan routed South Korea 14-2 in seven innings to advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic.

Suzuki, who went hitless in five at-bats in Japan’s 4-0 win over China on Thursday, went 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Japan improved to 2-0 in Pool A of the 16-nation tournament and booked a spot in the second round which starts March 15 in San Diego.

“It’s been a while since I felt comfortable at the plate,” Suzuki said. “In an important game like this, you are just trying to advance the runners.”

Olympic champion South Korea will play China on Sunday with the winner also advancing. China upset Taiwan 4-1 Saturday in the first game.

Playing before a capacity crowd of 45,640, Suzuki set the tone for Japan in the game’s first at-bat with a sharp line drive to right off South Korean starter Kim Kwang-hyun.

The Seattle outfielder advanced to second on a Hiroyuki Nakajima single and then scored Japan’s first run on Norichika Aoki’s single up the middle.

“His leadoff single was huge,” said Japan manager Tatsunori Hara. “He’s a great hitter and I imagine he’s been under a lot of pressure. It was an important game for us and thanks to Ichiro we were able to get off to a good start.”

Japan took a 3-0 first-inning lead on Seiichi Uchikawa’s double down the left field line that scored Nakajima and Aoki.

Boston Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the 2006 WBC, picked up the win after holding Korea to two runs on four hits over four innings.

South Korea cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the first on a two-run homer by cleanup-hitter Kim Tae-kyun but the momentum quickly shifted back to Japan in the second inning.

Suzuki, who batted 3-for-23 in exhibition games leading up to the tournament, laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Kenji Johjima to third and Akinori Iwamura to second.

Kim then walked in a run, Aoki added another on a fielder’s choice before Shuichi Murata connected for a three-run homer to left, knocking Kim out of the game and giving Japan a commanding 8-2 lead.

Suzuki singled to lead off the fourth, stole second and scored to make it 9-2 when South Korea third baseman Lee Dae-ho made an error on a Nakajima grounder.

Japan scored two more runs in the top of the fifth.

on a double by Nakajima and a sacrifice fly by Aoki. Kenji Johjima then hit a two-run homer in the sixth to make it 13-2.

Michihiro Ogasawara drove in a run in the top of the seventh before Japan reliever Minoru Iwata struck out Lee Bum-ho for the third out in the bottom of seventh as the game ended under the tournament’s mercy rule.

Korea beat Japan twice in the Olympics before going on to win the gold medal. Japan finished fourth.

The Koreans also beat Japan twice in the 2006 WBC but had to settle for third place.

“Japan has four or five major leaguers and we don’t have enough,” said South Korea’s manager Kim In-sik. “We won in the Olympics last year but are missing several key players and that’s a big difference.”

Outfielder Choo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians is the only major leaguer on South Korea’s roster.

Lee Seung-yeop was a standout in the 2006 WBC and the Olympics, but decided to skip this year’s tournament to prepare for the upcoming season with the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese league.

AP-ES-03-07-09 0909EST


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