by Wayne Graczyk
March 3, 2006
TOKYO–Korea and Japan each took a step closer to California by posting wins on the opening day of the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In the Asia Round at Tokyo Dome on Friday, Korean took the first WBC contest ever played with a 2-0 victory over Taiwan in a mid-day game, while Japan knocked off China 18-2 in an evening clash called after eight innings because of a 10-run-lead-after-seven-innings rule.
Four major league pitchers formed a relay combination for the Korean shutout against rival Taiwan and put their country's team in the driver's seat for a trip to Anaheim to compete in Round Two of the Classic, which begins March 12. With Japan considered the heavy favorite, the winner of the Korea-Taiwan game has the inside track on the second spot.
Korean righthander Seo Jae-Wong (Dodgers) got the victory after working the first 3 2/3 innings and throwing the maximum 65 pitches allowed by special WBC rules. Submarining Kim Byung Hyun (Rockies) and former Mets lefthander Koo Dae-Sung followed, while the first big league player from Korea, Park Chan Ho (Padres), worked the final three innings to earn a save.
"I decided to use the major league pitchers because I knew this was an important game, and we wanted to start off the series with a win," Korean manager Kim In Sik said after the game." The victory over Taiwan is only one game, but it is worth more than one-third of the tournament to us."
Korea scored one run each in the third and fourth innings on timely two-out doubles by catcher Hong Sung Heon and centerfielder Lee Jong Boem, as the Korean pitchers limited Taiwan to five hits and were helped by some pretty defensive plays.
Taiwan manager Lin Hua-Wei admitted the loss was a huge one for his club. "Obviously, we can't lose another game, and we play Japan tomorrow, so the pressure on us will be very great," he said.
The Korea-Taiwan game was attended by 5,193 spectators, mostly fans from the two countries cheering wildly for their respective teams.
More seats were filled at the "Big Egg" (Tokyo Dome's nickname) to watch the host Japanese team rout China. A paid attendance of 15,869 saw a close game through the fourth inning when China catcher Wang Wei slammed a two-run homer off Japan's ace righthander Koji Uehara to tie the score at 2-2, but the deadlock was short-lived.
Japan scored four runs in the top of the fifth on back-to-back home runs by Tsuyoshi Nishioka (a three-run shot) and Kosuke Fukudome. The Japanese team added three runs in the sixth, two in the seventh on a homer by Hitoshi Tamura and seven in the eighth, while Uehara and reliever Naoyuki Shimizu held China scoreless until the game was called.
Nishioka had five RBIs on the night, Uehara got the win, and Team Japan manager Sadaharu Oh said after the game, "I thought our players seemed a little nervous at first but, after the game was tied, they seemed to loosen up. We take great pride in being the best in Asia, and we proved that from the fifth inning on tonight."
Losing manager Jim Lefebvre said his Chinese team, which committed four errors, "played better than the score indicated.
"Once (Japan's) power kicked in, the game got away from us. Oh had told me before the game they had power but it hadn't shown up yet (in the exhibition games they played). Well, it showed up tonight in a big way."
The WBC Asia Round continues Saturday with China playing Korea and Japan facing Taiwan. Starting pitchers will be Kun Chen for China, Min Han Son for Korea, Daisuke Matsuzaka for Japan and Chu Chen Hsu for Taiwan.
The Tokyo action concludes on Sunday with Taiwan playing China and Japan meeting Korea.