Japan, Korea advance to second round

by Wayne Graczyk

March 4, 2006

March 3: Korea and Japan win WBC Pool A openers

TOKYO–California here we come.

Japan and Korea secured berths in the second round of the 2006 World Baseball Classic after beating Taiwan and China at Tokyo Dome on Saturday. Both teams improved their records to 2-0 in the Asia Round and will leave this week for Anaheim for more WBC action beginning March 12.

In a late morning (11 a.m. local start) game, Korea defeated China 10-1, and Japan knocked off Taiwan 14-3 in a night contest called after seven innings because of a 10-run-lead rule. It was Japan’s second short-game victory after it beat China 18-2 in an eight-inning game on Friday night.

The two losing teams were eliminated from advancing to the U.S. and will play Sunday morning to determine third place in the WBC Pool A. Japan plays Korea on Sunday night to wrap up the Asia Round.

Korea dominated the spunky but relatively inexperienced China squad, out-hitting them 18-2 in a game played before 5,193 spectators. DH Lee Seung Yeop led the offensive attack with two home runs, a pair of singles, a sacrifice fly and five RBIs. Righthander Son Min Han started and worked four scoreless innings to notch the victory.

China’s only score came on a solo home run by left fielder Yang Shuo, and team manager Jim Lefebvre said following the loss, “Our team was very flat today. But we are in the WBC to learn and gain experience. Tomorrow’s game will be a big one for us because of the China-Taiwan rivalry, and we hope to go home with a win.”

Manager Kim In Sik of Korea said he is happy his team will be going to America and added, “It will be much better if we can beat Japan on Sunday night. Then we can go to Anaheim with more confidence.”

The Korean team will be without third baseman Kim Dong Joo, the team’s cleanup hitter, who separated his right shoulder in Friday’s game against Taiwan during an awkward slide at first base. He will miss the remainder of the WBC.

Lee Seung Yeop was very comfortable hitting in what will now be his home ball park. After two years with the Japan Pacific League’s Chiba Lotte Marines, he will now play for the Yomiuri Giants.

“I love to hit in the Tokyo Dome and look forward to another productive game tomorrow night against Japan and to a great 2006 regular season,” he said.

The Japan-Taiwan game drew a crowd of 31,047, largest of the pool, which saw the Japanese team strike big in the first inning. A three-run homer by Hitoshi Tamura of the Yokohama BayStars gave manager Sadaharu Oh’s team a lead it never relinquished.

Japan went on to pound Taiwan pitchers-eight of them-with 15 hits and blew the game wide open with a six-run fifth inning. Seibu Lions ace Daisuke Matsuzaka started and worked the first four innings to earn the victory.

“I would like to congratulate Korea and Japan for advancing to the second round of the WBC,” Taiwan manager Lin Hua-Wei said. “Our team did its best but we’re very disappointed. Our opponent tonight was more powerful than we had imagined and, even though I changed pitchers seven times, it didn’t help. We just could not stop their batting attack.”

Oh added, “Since Korea had already won two games, we felt we had to win this one. When Tamura hit that homer with two outs in the first inning, it took a lot of pressure off of us.

“We’re looking forward to playing in Anaheim, but we have a big game to play against Korea, and I will make the sure the players stay focused on that.”