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'09 WBC: S. Korea edges Samurai Japan to top Pool A

by Rob Smaal (Mar 10, 2009)

Kim Tae Kyun drove in the only run of the game Monday night in the Pool A finale as South Korea edged Japan 1-0 to become champions of the Asian round of the World Baseball Classic.

Former MLB pitcher Bong Jung Keun (1-0) got the win for the Koreans with 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. Bong gave up three hits and did not walk a batter, combining with three relievers to limit Samurai Japan to six hits on the night. Yakult Swallows pitcher Lim Chang Yong worked the final 1 2/3 innings to pick up the save.

The Koreans had just four hits themselves.

The win avenged a 14-2 loss to Japan in seven innings on Saturday night and means that the Koreans head into the next round as the higher-seeded team. Japan, the defending WBC champions, also qualified for Round 2, while China and Taiwan are out of the 16-team tournament.

The Koreans got the only run they needed when Kim Tae Kyun ripped an RBI single down the third-base line with two men on in the top of the fourth off Japan starter Hisashi Iwakuma, a 21-game winner with the Rakuten Eagles last season.

Iwakuma (0-1) ended up going 5 1/3 innings for Tatsunori Hara's club. He pitched well, retiring the first nine men he faced in order. Iwakuma gave up one run on just two hits, walking three and striking out five.

Japan threatened to tie it up in their half of the inning when Hiroyuki Nakajima led off with a line single to center and moved to second on a balk by Bong. Nakajima scooted to third on a groundout by Norichika Aoki, but Bong got cleanup-hitter Shuichi Murata to pop out to first and designated-hitter Atsunori Inaba grounded out to leave Nakajima stranded at third base.

In the fifth, both Kosuke Fukudome and Kenji Jojima, two of the five major-leaguers on Japan's roster, came close to tying it up off Bong, but Fukudome's second deep fly ball of the night was caught on the warning track and a jack by Jojima had plenty of distance but sailed wide of the foul pole in left.

The Koreans played themselves out of a couple of potential runs in the top of the seventh with some poor baserunning. With none out and runners at second and third, DH Lee Dae Ho hit a groundball off reliever Takahiro Mahara to Nakajima at short. He threw the lead runner out at home and catcher Jojima then gunned out the runner trying to advance from second to third. The next batter, Lee Yong Kyu, flew out to center as Japan dodged a baseball bullet.

It didn't matter in the end, however, as Japan was unable to get a run across.

After breaking an 0-for-5 skid in Japan's opening win over China with three hits against the Koreans in Japan's 14-2 mercy-rule win on Saturday night, Japan leadoff-hitter Ichiro went hitless in his first three at-bats Monday before singling in the eighth inning.

The victory means that the Koreans have now beaten Japan five of the last seven times the teams have met in WBC and Olympic competition.

After the game, both Japan and South Korea hopped on charter flights for Phoenix. Hara and his players will hold a four-day training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, including practice games against the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs.

After that, the team heads to San Diego for the next round of WBC games. Japan and South Korea will form Pool 1 in Round 2, which will also likely include Cuba and Mexico, although Australia pummeled the Mexicans 17-7 in eight innings Sunday in Mexico City.

The semifinals and final take place in Los Angeles, with the championship game set for March 23 at Dodger Stadium.


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