Korea upsets Japan to win Pool A

by Wayne Graczyk
March 5, 2006

TOKYO-Asian home run king Lee Seung Yeop belted a come-from-behind, two-run home run off Hirotoshi Ishii to give Korea a dramatic 3-2 win over a shocked Japan in the Sunday finale of the 2006 World Baseball Classic Pool A round robin at Tokyo Dome.

Five Korean pitchers scattered seven hits and held the powerful Japanese team to a run each in the first two innings, then kept Japan scoreless through the ninth. The visitors put a run on the board with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Lee turned the tables with his eighth-inning shot into the right-field bleachers.

Japan had a two-out, bases loaded situation in the bottom of the fourth, but Korea’s rightfielder Lee Jin Young made a spectacular diving catch of a line drive headed for the corner hit by Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Had he missed it, at least three runs would have scored and, with his speed, Nishioka might have gotten an inside-the-park grand slam. Instead, the inning ended scoreless.

Former Mets lefthander Koo Dae Sung worked the seventh and eighth innings and got the win, while Padres righty Park Chan Ho came on in the ninth for the save, retiring Mariners all-star Ichiro Suzuki for the final out.

Following the game, Japan manager Sadaharu Oh said, “The Korean pitchers were superb tonight, and that right fielder’s catch saved the game for them. We will be looking for revenge when we face Korea again next week in Anaheim.”

Both Korea and Japan clinched spots in Round 2 of the WBC, to be played inn southern California, by winning games on Friday and Saturday.

Manager Kim In Sik of Korea agreed with Oh, saying, “Our pitchers were the key tonight. They were able to shut down the Japanese batters during the second half of the game.”

Kim also mentioned his team was inspired by a small but boisterous group of Korean fans in the left-field stands who had traveled to Tokyo from Seoul. “I hope they can afford to go to California too and cheer for us,” he said.

Lee Seung Yeop said he had great timing on the home run, his third in two games. He hit two homers against China on Saturday.

Sunday’s game drew 40,353 fans, and also in attendance were Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.

Korea as Pool A winner, and Japan as Pool A runner-up, will now join the top two teams in Pool B to form Pool 1 which plays in Anaheim, California, March 12-16. Pool B is made up of Canada, Mexico, South Africa and the United States who will engage in round-robin play March 7-10 in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.

In a game played earlier on Sunday in Tokyo, Taiwan beat rival China 12-3 to take third place in the WBC Asian Round. Third baseman and leadoff man Chen Yung-Chi (Mariners) provided the firepower for C.T. with a grand slam home run, three doubles and five RBIs.

Righthander Pan Wei-Lun pitched four shutout innings to get the victory in the game attended by 4,577 fans. Following the game, hitting star Chen proclaimed it was his best offensive performance in international play and one of the best of his professional career.

“We beat China, so it was a very meaningful game, and I hit the first grand slam ever in my life. This will be a long-lasting memory,” he said.

China team manager Jim Lefebvre admitted, “Our team was nervous because it was a big game for us, but that’s part of being a professional player, and they have to learn how to handle that.

“We didn’t play very well, but I want to thank the WBC organizers for inviting us. This was a great experience for our kids, playing against major leaguers and, next time, we’ll be better prepared.”