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Another showdown / S. Korea romps past China in mercy-rule game, meets Japan in final

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Another showdown / S. Korea romps past China in mercy-rule game, meets Japan in final

by Jim Allen (Mar 9, 2009)

South Korea clobbered upstart China 14-0 in seven innings on Sunday to qualify for the second round of the World Baseball Classic.

Needing a win to stay alive, the Koreans exploited poor pitching and poor fielding to set up a rematch tonight against Japan, which beat South Korea 14-2 on Saturday.

"Yes, we lost a called game to them last night, and there are many great players on the Japan team," manager Kim In Sik said. "But the Korean team has many good players as well.

"We will have to change our thinking, however."

Sawamura Award-winner Hisashi Iwakuma will start for Japan tonight, with major league veteran Bong Jung Keun going for South Korea.

On Thursday, an advanced scout for South Korea warned that Iwakuma was a real threat because Korean hitters had trouble with the forkball, Iwakuma's out pitch.

Against China, which stunned Taiwan 4-1 on Saturday to remain alive, manager Kim sent South Korea's 2008 ERA leader Yoon Suk Min to the mound. The 22-year-old shut down China on two hits over six innings, but Kim said it was not the pitching that was so different but the opponents.

"Yoon pitched well, but the big difference between tonight's game and last night's was the gap in quality between Japan and China," Kim said. "I think Japan analyzed us very well."

Facing elimination from the tournament, South Korea scored twice in the first inning thanks to China starter Sun Guoquiang's inability to find the strike zone.

Back-to-back walks sandwiched around a stolen base and a wild pitch had runners on first and third for Kim Hyun Soo. Kim's RBI single advanced the lead runner to third, allowing a run to score on a groundout.

Sun, however, regained control and kept the Koreans in check until the fourth, when he hit Choo Shin Soo with a pitch and Lee Bum Ho blasted a two-run homer.

Lee, who reached base three times and had a sacrifice fly, got the start at third base in favor of regular Lee Dae Ho due to a suggestion by South Korea's batting coach.

"My batting coach suggested Lee Bum Ho would be better because he hits submarine-style pitchers so well," Kim said of the switch. "It worked out great, but all the credit goes to our coach."

With two down and one on, Sun surrendered the mound to Bu Tao.

Bu got out of the inning but couldn't buy an out in the fifth, when South Korea scored five times with the help of two walks, a hit batsman, two errors and two singles that should have been prevented.

China's bright spot in the inning came when lead-footed catcher Park Kyung Oan was thrown out 9-6-2 while trying to score from second on a single.

The Koreans scored five times in the sixth as the game got completely out of hand--a vast difference between Thursday's 4-0 loss to defending WBC champion Japan.

"We didn't play very well tonight," said China manager Terry Collins. "When you don't pitch, the game can get ugly."

South Korea went into the bottom of the sixth needing a six-run inning to end the game before seven innings.

A single and a hit batsman set the stage for Lee Dae Ho's pinch-hit double and Lee Bum Ho's sacrifice fly. With one out, an aggressive attempt at a shoestring catch by center fielder Sun Ling Feng back fired.

The ball skipped past him and rolled to the wall in center for a two-run triple. An RBI single completed the scoreline, although Ko Young Min tried his best to plate the 15th run needed to euthanize the Chinese in six innings.

Ko drove a pitch to the gap in right-center, but Sun made up for his earlier miss with a fine catch that gave China three more outs in the WBC.

Chong Tae Hyon got two outs, and Tokyo Yakult Swallows closer Lim Chang Yong got the final out. Although it finished with an embarrassing defeat, it was a solid tournament for China, which held its own against defending WBC champion Japan before upsetting Taiwan.

"I really hope that the success Team China showed will get people excited," Collins said. "I saw real good things in the month that I was with this team. If they really dig in you'll see some good players coming out of China."

Although both Japan and Korea have qualified for the second round, tonight's game will decide their seeding in San Diego.

"In our last game, we definitely had some issues with our pitching," manager Kim said. "I think that for this game and for the second round, we'll be able to adjust and overcome some of those problems."

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