Americans try to reach WBC title game at last 

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ryan Vogelsong has a little running joke that he is going to plunk Giants teammate Pablo Sandoval in the World Baseball Classic to keep the Panda from a three-homer game like the one he produced in Game 1 of the World Series last fall.

Sandoval plans to play nice once he pulls on the Venezuela uniform.

“He’s my teammate, I don’t want to fight,” Sandoval said with a smile.

Both know the team to beat: Two-time WBC winner Japan.

Joe Torre is returning to the top step of the dugout to manage the Americans, who have yet to even reach the championship game of this hugely popular international event.

Team USA has plenty of motivation to make up for two poor showings in this tournament. The Americans didn’t get out of the second round in 2009, then lost in the semifinals to Japan three years later. Now, they are making plans to reach the semifinals and final at AT&T Park.

“We’ll probably be disappointed if we don’t make it to San Francisco,” said Vogelsong, slated to be the No. 2 starter in the U.S. rotation. “First and foremost, we’re focused on getting there.”

The Japanese topped Cuba in the inaugural Classic in 2006, then South Korea three years later. Japan is known for its rigorous spring trainings, which typically begin a couple of weeks before the major league clubs and feature all-day workouts with just a short break to eat.

The inaugural 2006 Classic featured a pool-play format, while 2009 was double-elimination — and this one will be a combination of both. The first round will be pool play, with the top two teams advancing. The second round is double-elimination, and the top two teams will reach the semifinals.

The Americans will play their round-robin games at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field in Phoenix.

Semifinals will be played March 17-18, with the championship March 19 in the Giants’ waterfront ballpark

World Baseball Classic

  • WHEN: Today through March 19
  • FORMAT: Top two teams in pool play advance to double-elimination round, where top two in each group advance to semifinals
  • FINALS: The semifinals will be held March 17 and 18 at AT&T Park and the finals on March 19 at AT&T Park
  • TV: MLB Network
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