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Japan shuts down Cuba
Pitching in the same ballpark where he led his country to the inaugural WBC title three years ago, the Boston Red Sox ace was brilliant in silencing Cuba's previously undefeated big boppers as Japan opened the second round with a 6-0 win yesterday.

How OK is Dice-K with the WBC? Try 5-0 in five starts. He's 2-0 in this edition after going 3-0 in 2006, when he was selected MVP after leading Japan to a 10-6 victory over Cuba in the championship game at PETCO Park.

Matsuzaka was about as relaxed - and dominant - as a pitcher can be in mid-March.

"I knew Cuba was a good team, but particularly there was nothing I was too worried about," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "While I was doing the warming up, did I look so fierce? I thought I had a smile on my face, did I not?"

The righthander with the slow-motion windup and array of effective pitches held Cuba to five singles in six innings, striking out eight and walking none. His first five strikeout victims all went down looking.

"It is not very often that this happens to us, but sometimes it does happen," Cuban manager Higinio Velez said. "The guys know that this could happen, and they do prepare for this. There are great pitchers that can do this.

"We faced a wonderful pitcher today. It's a pitcher that we respect quite a bit."

Cuba entered the game with 11 home runs, all hit at high altitude in Mexico City in the first round, when it went 3-0 to win Pool B. Seven of Cuba's eight hits yesterday were singles. Frederich Cepeda had three hits, including a double.

Matsuzaka got a nice ovation from Japanese fans and handshakes from teammates as he approached the dugout after striking out Yosvani Peraza to end the sixth. He threw 86 pitches. There's an 85-pitch limit in the second round, unless a pitcher needs more to complete a batter's plate appearance. It was Japan's second shutout in this WB.


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