What Happened: South Korea is proving its Olympics gold medal was not a fluke. Korea topped 2006 World Baseball Classic champion Japan for the second time in two weeks to earn a spot in the semifinals. Korea scored three runs in the first, then hung on for a 3-1 win.
The U.S. came within two outs of elimination but rallied to score three runs in the ninth for a 6-5 win over Puerto Rico. David Wright proved to be the hero as he lined a 3-0 pitch down the right field line to drive in the winning run.The Stars: Bong didn’t have a whole lot of success when he was pitching in the U.S. for the Braves and Reds, but watching him on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, he looked like a different pitcher. Bong generated ground ball after ground ball as he held Japan to three hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings. Jin Young Lee’s first inning single drove in two runs that proved to be the difference.
In addition to his game-winning single, Wright had two other hits as he went 3-for-4. Shane Victorino also had three hits for the U.S. Alexis Rios and Carlos Delgado homered for Puerto Rico while Kevin Youkilis homered for the U.S.
The Prospects: The Japan-Korea game was filled with young players who could make the jump to the U.S. with no problems if it wasn’t for contract restrictions.
Japaneses starter Yu Darvish, 22, struggled with his control in the first inning as he allowed three runs on a walk, an error and three hits, but he then settled down to retire 12 of the last 13 batters he faced before leaving after the fifth. Darvish struck out seven, showed off a fastball that sat at 93-95 and touched 97 and mixed in an assortment of cut fastballs, breaking balls and changeups that had Korean hitters flailing for most of the night.
Japanese reliever Masahiro Tanaka, 21, also showed outstanding stuff. Tanaka only got to face one batter, but his 95 mph fastball and 87-89 mph slider meant that Kyung Oan Park never had a chance–he struck out in four pitches.
Korean 20-year-old lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim only faced three batters, but he flashed his 92-93 mph fastball, striking out one of the three before leaving after allowing a one-out hit in the ninth. Korea’s first baseman Tae Kyun Kim, 26, went 1-for-2 at the plate, but he was more impressive in the field, where he made several solid plays to turn hits into outs.
Coming Up: Cuba and Japan, the two teams that played for the WBC title in 2006, will face each other tonight at 11 p.m. ET for the final spot in the WBC semifinals. The U.S will play Venezuela tonight at 7 p.m. in the Pool 2 championship game, but it’s not likely to be either team’s best since the game is relatively meaningless–both teams are already moving on to the semifinals. Venezuela has already announced that several players will sit the game out because of injury, while the banged-up U.S. team is playing with a reduced roster.