No Lee, no problem for South Korea's World Baseball Classic squad as they stomped Taiwan 9-0 on Friday night in their tourney opener at Tokyo Dome, setting up a clash with archrival Japan on Saturday night.
Well, actually there are eight Lees on the South Korean roster, but Lee Seung Yeop is not one of them. The prolific slugger, who led the 2006 WBC in both home runs (5) and RBIs (10, tied with Ken Griffey Jr. of Team USA) decided to skip this tournament to prepare for the 2009 NPB season with his Yomiuri Giants club.
On Friday, he was not missed.
It was another Lee, Lee Jin Young, who wielded the big stick for the Koreans, cranking a first-inning grand slam off Taiwanese starter--you guessed it--Lee Chen-chang to give his team an early 6-0 lead. Later, in the sixth inning, Jeong Keun Woo hit a two-run shot off reliever Lin Po-yu to make it 9-0 after Lee Dae Ho had singled in a run in the fifth.
Right-hander Lee Chen-chang (0-1) left the game after registering just one out, giving up six runs on two hits and three walks. His ERA of 162.00 will no doubt have his bosses with the Cleveland Indians scratching their heads in disbelief.
South Korea pitcher Ryu Hyun Jin (1-0), who earned the win in the gold-medal game at the Beijing Olympics last summer, got the start from manager Kim In Sik. The beefy lefty went three solid innings, allowing no runs on one hit. He walked two and whiffed three while throwing 43 pitches, which means he is eligible to pitch again on one day's rest.
Three relievers combined with Ryu to limit Taiwan to five hits.
"Getting those early runs made it a lot easier for us," said skipper Kim. "Our pitchers also did a great job of holding the lead and that really helped too."
While Lee Seung Yeop was not on the field for South Korea, Choo Shin Soo was. Choo, an outfielder with the Indians and the only major-leaguer on the Korean roster, was in doubt up until shortly before the game as he is recovering from both ankle and arm injuries. However, the Indians cleared Choo to play, provided he was used as a designated hitter in the first round. Choo went 1-for-3 with a walk hitting in the DH spot Friday.
South Korea, which reached the semifinals in the 2006 WBC before losing to eventual champion Japan, out-hit Taiwan 10-5 on the night. The Taiwanese hit into five double plays, a WBC record.
Taiwan will face China in Saturday's afternoon game before South Korea and Japan go at it at 7 p.m. With a double-elimination format in effect, the winner of the South Korea-Japan game is guaranteed to go through to the next round while the China-Taiwan loser is eliminated.
In Thursday's opening game of the 2009 WBC, Japan shut out China 4-0.
All Pool A Asian round games are taking place at Tokyo Dome. The top two teams in Pool A advance to the second round of the tournament in San Diego.