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As expected / South Korea whips Taiwan to set up showdown with Japan

by John E. Gibson (Mar 7, 2009)

Taiwan came to the World Baseball Classic with its eyes on a spot in the second round.

South Korea made the Taiwan players and coaches hide their eyes in the first inning on Friday with a grand slam from Lee Jin Young in a six-run rally that the reigning Olympic champion rode to a 9-0 victory in front of 12,704 at Tokyo Dome.

Korea took advantage of some first-inning wildness by Taiwan starter Lee Chen-chang, who handed out three free passes, a hit batter and a single before Lee Jin Young's slam to deep right capped the rally in the second game of the Tokyo Round.

"Of course a first inning like that really helped us," said South Korea skipper Kim In Sik, whose team turned a WBC-record five double plays. "Sometimes you score a lot of runs and sometimes you don't. But our pitchers did a great job."

South Korea advanced in the winners' bracket and will play WBC defending champion Japan today at 7 p.m., while Taiwan faces China in an elimination game at 12:30 p.m., both at Tokyo Dome.

The winner of South Korea and Japan advances to the final of the Tokyo Round and automatically earns a ticket to the second round. The Taiwan-China winner plays the Japan-South Korea loser for a spot in the final.

Lee Jin Young said Korea is ready to take on Japan.

"Tomorrow we have a big game, so I want to come back and play well again," said the outfielder, who had just eight homers last season with the SK Wyverns in Korea.

"This is a rivalry game for Korea and we just want to come together and play well as a team."

Japan skipper Tatsunori Hara issued a statement after the game. "As expected, Korea is a well-balanced team. We look forward to going chest-to-chest with them and see who the best is."

Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP in the inaugural WBC in 2006, is expected to get the ball for Japan, while Korea will start 20-year-old lefty Kim Kwang Hyun, who pitched in Beijing and was 16-4 with the Wyverns lasts season.

Kim Il Sik said he has noticed a change in the way Matsuzaka goes at batters.

"I saw Matsuzaka for the first time at the Sydney Olympics [in 2000]. After that he moved to the Boston Red Sox and I see him now because we can watch Major League Baseball in Korea," the manager said.

"The difference with him is that he used to throw a lot of fastballs, and now he throws more breaking pitches," said Kim, who also fed Japan some words of praise.

"They have a lot of great pitchers. Korea is a little behind Japanese baseball, but we'll go out and do our best."

Taiwan only mustered five hits off four Korean pitchers, while giving up 10. Ryu Hyun Jin, the winning pitcher in the gold medal game against Cuba in Beijing, went three-plus innings to earn the victory for Korea.

The 21-year-old took a seat after tossing his 43rd pitch and won't be available today against Japan, but could pitch as early as Sunday if needed.

Ryu walked two and allowed a single to Lin Che-hsuan to open the fourth inning before departing. The southpaw fanned two and his fielders turned a pair of double plays to help him.

The Koreans scrambled for their seventh run in the fifth inning. Kim Hyun Soo laced a one-out double to right-center and after a walk, Lee Dae Ho cracked a run-scoring single to left.

Choo Shin Soo of the Cleveland Indians also singled, but Lee Jin Young grounded into a 6-4-3 twin killing to end the inning.


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