South Korea Bounces Back To Beat Japan

By Wayne Graczyk

TOKYO—Team Korea rebounded from an embarrassing 14-2 loss to Japan and beat the Japanese 1-0 in the sixth and last game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic Asia Round, Pool A, at Tokyo Dome on Monday night before a crowd of 42,879.

In contrast to their last meeting, this one turned out to be a pitchers’ battle with starters Jung Keun Bong of Korea and Hisashi Iwakuma of Japan going as far they could, each throwing 69 pitches, one below the maximum 70 allowed by World Baseball Classic rules.

Both came out of the game in the sixth inning, and a total of eight relievers—three for Korea and five for Japan—pitched scoreless baseball. 

The only run of the game came across in the top of the fourth inning. Korean leadoff man Jong Wook Lee walked, Keun Woo Jeong singled to put runners on first and second, and Tae Kyun Kim singled home Lee.

Iwakuma said after the game his only regret was walking Lee, and that is what cost him and his team the ball game. Japan actually out-hit Korea, six to four, and put a runner on base with a hit in every inning from the third to the eighth but could not take advantage of the chances.

Korean closer Chang Yong Lim who plays for Japan’s Yakult Swallows pitched the final inning and two-thirds to earn a save.

The Korean team was jubilant as the game ended, while the home Japanese crowd went into a ddep feeling of disappoinment. Korea concluded the Asia Round with a 3-1 record, having scored wins over Chinese Taipei and China and splitting the two games with Japan who finished 2-1, having beaten China.

In a post-game interview, Korean manager In Sik Kim said, “I am very happy about this. This is huge for us, and we look forward to going to America and winning there.”

Kim also praised the pitchers of both teams. “Today everyone can recognize the importance of pitching,” he said. “Baseball is 95 percent pitching. Today our starter, closer and middle relievers all did so great.”

Japan manager Tatsunori Hara promised that, despite his team’s runner-up status in Pool A, the Japanese will go to America with the intention of repeating as Classic champions.

“We lost today, but I am proud of my players, and we will head for the U.S. with that pride. Korea and Japan will go to the next round and, together, we will be showing the world how good is Asian baseball,” Hara said.

Both teams are now in Arizona for workouts and Cactus League exhibition games and will join the winner and runner-up of Pool B (Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa) to form Pool 1 which gets underway in San Diego on March 15.