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S. Korea gets back at Japan

by Jim Allen (Mar 10, 2009)

South Korea settled a score against Japan in the finale of the World Baseball Classic's Tokyo Round.

Bong Jung Keun extended his scoreless streak against Japan with 5-1/2 more innings, and Kim Tae Kyun's fourth-inning RBI single lifted South Korea to a 1-0 win over Japan.

The victory avenged a 14-2 loss to Japan on Saturday and sent South Korea into second-round action in San Diego as the winner of the Pool A. Japan will now open the San Diego Round against the winner from Pool B in Mexico City, while the Koreans will next play against the second-place team.

"Of course we were blown out in our last game [against Japan], however, all the players were united in our desire to get revenge and our passion to beat Japan," said Bong, who has now managed 7-2/3 scoreless innings in three WBC games against Japan.

Manager Kim In Sik said he chose Bong to start, because the 1.91-meter lefty was so eager to go.

"Two days ago, he said, 'Hey skipper, I want to pitch against Japan,'" Kim said. "That was so brave."

Kim's four pitchers allowed six hits but no walks, while striking out seven. His last pitcher, Tokyo Yakult Swallows closer Lim Chang Yong, worked 1-2/3 innings to get the save.

Japan's defense was able to exploit some bad base running to keep the game close, but a lack of offense doomed the defending WBC champs to second place in Tokyo.

When Ichiro Suzuki's only hit of the game put the speedster on first with one out, manager Tatsunori Hara took the bat out of his hottest hitter, Hiroyuki Nakajima, ordering him to bunt with one strike.

"We had so many options in that situation," Hara said. "After he fouled off the first pitch [with an attempted sacrifice], I thought a bunt would be our best chance to advance the runner."

Lim then retired Swallows teammate Norichika Aoki on a groundout to end the inning.

"They are playing for the same team," manager Kim said. "Lim knows Aoki and Aoki knows Lim so they are even. I haven't asked Lim about it, but throwing a changeup 2-0 was inspired."

Kim Tae Kyun delivered the game's first run with a fourth-inning single off right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who walked two batters in the inning. It was the cleanup man's sixth RBI of the tournament and his third against Japan.

"What a waste that was to walk the leadoff batter and let him score," Iwakuma said. "I did manage to make a game of it, though and I want to build on that for the next round.

"Walks troubled all of our pitchers tonight, but I regret that one."

Iwakuma, who retired the first nine batters in the game, retired only one of the five he faced in the fourth inning. His fielders accounted for the other two outs on the bases. Left fielder Aoki gunned down the trailing runner trying to advance to third on Kim's single, and catcher Kenji Jojima picked Kim off second base to end the inning.

Japan threatened to tie it in the bottom of the inning, but Bong retired two batters after Nakajima was on third with one out.

Nakajima, who lined out in the first, went 1-for-3 and as 4-for-8 in Tokyo.

Like Bong, Iwakuma went 5-1/3, allowing a run on two hits and three walks. The right-hander struck out five.

Japan's defense came up big again in the seventh. Lefty Toshiya Sugiuchi got two outs in the sixth but left after walking the first hitter in the seventh. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks teammate Takahiro Mahara promptly gave up a double to Kim. With the infield in and the runners going on contact, the Koreans ran into a double play.

Shortstop Nakajima nailed the lead runner easily at the plate. Jojima fired to third to bag Kim for the second out, and Kosuke Fukudome caught a tricky liner in center to end the inning.

"We missed some signs and made some errors on the bases," manager Kim said. "I want to work on those in practice so we can correct those for the future."

After Japan lit up left-handed ace Kim Kwang Hyun on Saturday, Bong said his fellow southpaw, who pitched well against Japan twice in the Olympics, provided some clues.

"I wanted to pitch against Japan so badly and Kim Kwang Hyun knows so much about Japan. He really helped me a lot," Bong said. "I concentrated on each and every pitch. The Japanese punished Kim's slider, so I went at them mostly with fastballs.

"Although they are super players, I was confident in being able to beat them."

Both managers agreed that Bong's effort was the difference between their two games.

"One game we scored 14 runs, the next zero. This is how baseball is," Hara said. "If the opposing pitcher pitches well, it is hard to hit.

"Our pitchers did a great job. As a unit, I feel each individual player is getting stronger as we go along."


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