ANAHEIM, Calif. - Roger Clemens was looking for a much better finish to his brilliant career. Clemens pitched well Thursday night, but a lineup loaded with All-Stars couldn’t get the job done for the United States.
Oliver Perez and seven relievers combined to pitch a three-hitter to lead Mexico past the Rocket and Team USA 2-1 on Thursday night, eliminating the Americans from the inaugural World Baseball Classic and putting Japan in the semifinals.
When it was over, Clemens implied that he had thrown his final pitch.
‘‘For me, right now, it’s goodbye,’’ he said in a brief statement issued through Team USA. ‘‘I felt great tonight and my body responded well. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to participate in this event. It made all the work I did in the last six weeks worthwhile.’’
Clemens, who has won 341 games and struck out 4,502 batters in 22 big-league seasons, wasn’t at his best. The 43-year-old righthander allowed six hits and two runs in 4 1 /3 innings with no walks and four strikeouts. He threw 73 pitches — seven below the maximum for the second round.
The outcome was a stunner, especially considering the offensive firepower on the Americans’ roster even without Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon, sidelined with sore left shoulders.
Team USA scored only eight runs in three second-round games.
‘‘It’s a tough bite to chew,’’ catcher Michael Barrett said. ‘‘The expectations on us to win and getting upset is a credit to their style of play and their pitching. We put everything we had into this in such a short time, and didn’t get it done.’’
South Korea had a 3-0 secondround record in Group One, with Team USA, Japan and Mexico all going 1-2. Japan earned the second semifinal berth from the group by allowing the fewest runs in games between the tied teams.
Japan, which has already lost twice to South Korea in the Classic, faces its archrival in Saturday’s opening semifinal game in San Diego, with the Dominican Republic meeting Cuba on Saturday night. The winners play Monday for the championship.
‘‘You’re never prepared for defeat. We always prepare to win,’’ Team USA manager Buck Martinez said. ‘‘It’s a disappointing loss, for sure. We never really exploded with the bats.
‘‘The quality of the pitching we saw in this tournament was certainly much better than I expected on a consistent basis.’’
Martinez said Clemens didn’t object to being removed from the game.
‘‘Rocket looked at me and looked fatigued,’’ Martinez said. ‘‘He says, ‘What do you got out there?’ That was a sign that he felt like I did. We probably had a better shot with a fresh arm out there.’’
Scot Shields entered with runners at first and third and one out, and Jorge Cantu’s grounder drove in what proved to be the winning run.
‘‘My perfect scenario would have been that I come in for Roger and clean up his mess,’’ Shields said. ‘‘I got the chance and I didn’t do it, and that hurts. That run that scored was the winning run and it eliminated us. It’s pretty hard to take.’’
Perez allowed only one hit in three scoreless innings, and the Mexican bullpen retired 12 straight batters until Chipper Jones drew a one-out walk off Jorge De La Rosa in the ninth. Luis Ayala then walked Alex Rodriguez, but David Cortes needed only one pitch to get Vernon Wells to ground into a game-ending double play.
‘‘We came here to win, and that is how we performed this evening,’’ Mexico manager Paquin Estrada said through a translator.
Regarding Clemens, Estrada said: ‘‘He’s a person that I respect, and I’ve kept the lineup as a souvenir to this occasion.’’
The Americans blew an opportunity against Edgar Gonzalez in the top of the fifth, when Jeff Francoeur opened the inning with a double and Barrett was hit by a pitch.
Francoeur strayed off second when Michael Young squared to bunt, and was caught in a rundown. Gonzalez then retired Young and Derek Jeter on ground balls to end the inning.
World Baseball Classic
Semifinals: Dominican Republic vs. Cuba, 1 p.m. Saturday, San Diego Korea vs. Japan, 8 p.m. Saturday, San Diego
Finals: 7 p.m. Monday, San Diego