Korea Beats U.S. To Stay Undefeated

ANAHEIM–No, seriously–who knew?

The heavyweight
champion of the inaugural World Baseball Classic so far isn’t the
juggernaut United States, the mighty Dominican Republic, or even the
mysterious Cuba. It’s Korea.

Yes, Korea.

Korea
cruised through the first round of play with a 3-0 record, and kicked
off Round Two by nudging past Mexico 2-1 Sunday night to run its record
to 4-0. Surely the miraculous streak would end against the U.S. and its
all-star roster, right?

Wrong. Meet the 5-0 Team Korea.
Powered by first baseman Seung Yeop Lee–who is quickly making a huge
name for himself in the tournament–and Dodgers slugger Hee Seop Choi,
Korea bruised the U.S. to 7-3 beat. Korea is now in the driver’s seat
with a 2-0 record in Round Two and a virtual certainty to make the
semifinals in San Diego starting Saturday.

Korea got the
party started early, as U.S. starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis had his
second straight shaky outing. Willis walked leadoff man Jong Beom Lee
on five pitches, three of which were in the dirt. Fortunately for
Willis, Lee was erased on a double play with the next batter, because
first baseman Seung Yeop Lee continued his massive hot streak with a
solo home run on the first pitch he saw from Willis. It was Lee’s fifth
home run of the tournament.

Tae Kyn Kim then walked, advanced to third on a single by Ji Man Song, and scored on an RBI single from Bum Ho Lee.

Ken
Griffey Jr. hit a towering fly in the third inning that just cleared
the right-field fence for a solo home run, but the U.S. got no closer
than 2-1. Korea squirted across a run in the bottom of the third, then
poured it on in the fourth and never looked back.

“Right
now, I’m not playing good baseball,” Willis said. “I’m a man, and I can
admit that. But I’m still excited to be here, and I’m hoping we
advance, because that’ll give me another start.”

After
Willis was chased in three innings, U.S. reliever Dan Wheeler started
the fourth with two quick outs before yielding a ground-rule double to
Min Jae Kim. With two out and first base open, Buck Martinez chose to
give Seung Yeop Lee four wide, intentionally walking him. Not that it
mattered. Choi, the Dodgers first baseman who was off to a slow start
in the tournament, pinch-hit and lofted a three-run homer high into the
night sky and just inside the right-field foul pole. Korea padded its
lead to 6-1.

Korea tacked on an additional insurance run in
the sixth, and the U.S. got two back in the ninth, but matters were
largely academic. Korea never trailed, and was in control for the
entire game.

U.S. manager Buck Martinez was prophetic as
regards Seung Yeop Lee before the game. “We know he has the ability to
do things dramatically at the plate,” Martinez said. “He’s got a
powerful swing, and he’s already obviously had an interesting
tournament.”

Things got more interesting for Lee, at the
U.S.’s expense, and Martinez heaped on the praise after the game. “We
were trying to get the ball out away from him, but it just ran back
across the middle of the plate,” Martinez said. “We know he has good
power. Lee has been red-hot in this tournament.”

U.S. hopes
are still high that it will advance to the four-team final in San
Diego, and with a 1-1 record, the Americans are currently ahead of both
Japan and Mexico in the four-team pool. The U.S. will anxiously await
the results of Tuesday’s Mexico-Japan game to see which team will join
them at 1-1.

Perhaps the only bright spot for the U.S. in
the Korea game was Griffey, who atoned for a ninth-inning strikeout
against Japan on Sunday and continued his otherwise torrid pace. He’s
hitting .588 for the tournament with 10 RBIs, tying Seung Yeop Lee for
the Classic lead. Griffey went 3-for-4, and in addition, hit a towering
fly to the warning track in center field in the first inning that
narrowly missed going out for a home run.

But the story of the tournament remains Seung Yeop Lee, who is hitting .471-5-10 after going 2-for-3 Monday.

“There’s
no reason to think that he might not be a guy that can play in the
major leagues,” Martinez said of the Japan League star, who played two
years for the Chiba Lotte Marines and signed this offseason with
Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants. “You see his discipline at the plate, his plate
coverage, and you see the power he has. Everybody understands that this
is a guy that is going to attract a lot of attention.”

Starter
Min Han Son notched the win for Korea, going thee innings while giving
up only one run. Willis gave up three runs in his three innings and was
saddled with the loss.

Korea’s next matchup is against rival
Japan on Wednesday. Korea previously beat Japan, 3-2, in the third game
for both teams. The U.S. gets a couple days rest before taking on
Mexico on Thursday. The U.S. previously blanked Mexico 2-0 in Round One.

International | #2006 #International Affairs #World Baseball Classic

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