Korea And Japan Win WBC Pool A Openers

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.

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.

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.

(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.”

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.