Korean Victory Keeps Team USA Alive

ANAHEIM–Japan controlled its own destiny. But just like every other
team in the World Baseball Classic, it couldn’t control Korea.

Korea
continued its surprising dominance of the world, knocking out Japan
with a 2-1 victory. With the win, Korea punched its ticket to the WBC
finals starting Saturday in San Diego. Team USA will earn the second
qualifying spot if it beats Mexico on Thursday.

The matchup
had all the trappings of a classic offense against defense struggle.
Japan entered the game with a team .337 batting average and 43 runs
scored, both WBC bests. Meanwhile, Korea entered with a microscopic
1.40 team ERA and had yielded just seven runs, again both WBC bests.

Pitching,
and Korea, prevailed. Korea, which beat Japan 3-2 in the first round in
the Tokyo Dome, coasted through Round Two with a 3-0 record, and ran
its overall WBC mark to a stunning 6-0.

“We gave everything
we had,” Japan manager Sadaharu Oh said in the postgame. “We learned
that our opponents’ desire was higher than ours.”

Japan
threatened early, when third baseman Akinori Iwamura led off with a
single in the second inning. He later advanced to second, and tried to
score on a hit by catcher Tomoya Satozaki. But Iwamura was nailed at
the plate on a nice throw by Korean right fielder Jin Young Lee, on a
play that would later prove oddly fateful. Iwamura was taken out of the
game with a slight hamstring pull he felt rounding third base, and was
replaced at third by Toshiaki Imae the next inning.

Pitching
took over, with Japanese starter Shunsuke Watanbe and Korean ace Chan
Ho Park mowing down hitters. The game remained scoreless through seven
complete.

But fate came back to revisit Japan in the top of
the eighth inning when Korean second baseman Min Jae Kim walked with
one out. On a subsequent single to center by Byung Kyu Lee, Kim made a
reckless and ill-advised turn around second and dug for third. Center
fielder Kosuke Fukudome’s throw was well ahead of Kim’s head-first
slide, but Toshiaki Imae–that’s right, the substitute third
baseman–bobbled the ball on the tag. Kim was called safe, and Korea
was granted new life.

Korea took full advantage of the
opportunity, as Jong Beom Lee delivered a two-run double that rolled
all the way to the wall. The two runs were all Korean needed.

Japan’s
Tsuyoshi Nishioka banged out a solo homer in the ninth that trimmed
Korea’s lead to 2-1 and heightened the tension in a hard-fought and
close game. But reliever Seung Hwan Oh came in and struck out the final
two Japanese batters to record the save and cinch up the win.

Korea’s
win wasted the stellar effort of Japanese starting pitcher Shunsuke
Watanbe, a knuckle-dragging submariner with an effective changeup.
Watanbe went six full innings, the second-longest outing by a pitcher
in the WBC. Watanbe gave up only one hit, and yielded two walks.

Watanbe
was matched and perhaps exceeded by the Padres’ Park, who has pitched
brilliantly in the Classic. Park, who has thrown 10 scoreless innings
in four appearances, showed uncharacteristic, masterful control,
holding Japan in check for five full innings of four-hit ball with no
walks. Park twirled 66 pitches, an amazing 50 of them for strikes.

“Our
pitchers worked very hard and gave 110 percent,” Korea manager In Sik
Kim said. “They did their very best, and that’s why we got where we
are.”

Park was visibly pumped up and emotional, as Southern
California in general and Orange County and particular have huge Korean
and Japanese populations. In the third inning, fans were still
walking up to buy tickets. Attendance came in at 39,679. The raucous
Korean portion of the crowd, the majority faction on this night,
cheered wildly as Korea took a victory lap around the field after their
win, then planted the Korean flag on the mound.

The final
game in Pool 1 is Thursday’s U.S. vs. Mexico matchup. Pirates hurler
Oliver Perez will toe the rubber for Mexico, while U.S. manager Buck
Martinez sends Roger Clemens out to take the ball.

“There’s
no better big game pitcher in baseball than Roger Clemens,” Martinez
said. “He’s into it. We certainly hope to give him some run support and
let him do his thing.”

International | #2006 #International Affairs #Olympics

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