/ |

Familiarity breeds respect

by Jason Coskrey

LOS ANGELES — On a cool night in Chavez Ravine, the World Baseball Classic lived up to its name.

Asian rivals Japan and South Korea put on a show before a record crowd in the final of the 2009 WBC on Monday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

A two-run single in the 10th inning by Ichiro Suzuki helped bring the WBC to a close after 39 games, five of those featuring Japan against South Korea. Japan won the final 5-3.

“We first played (South Korea) at Tokyo Dome in the first round,” Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. “It was the second game we (Japan) played. At that time, we won. At that press conference, I said I had the feeling that we were going to meet them a number of times.

“The fact that we did actually end up playing them five times, the most number of times you can play against any team, is something that I had a feeling we would do. But I am also surprised that we did.”

In front of a raucous crowd of 54,846, Japan and South Korea put a rivalry spanning two nations on display for the world to see.

“When the game started, (facing) Team Korea in the final as expected, it became a very close game,” Hara said. “I felt like we could have scored more but it was difficult for us to earn runs against the Korean defense.”

Ichiro’s hit was the deciding factor of five games between the squads, with Japan winning the impromptu series 3-2.

“I would say Japan is the best team in the world,” said Lee Bum Ho, who sent the game into extra innings with a single in the ninth.

“In the first WBC Japan won and in the second Japan won again. I believe in terms of their world record, they were the best and the strongest.

“We did our best against the strongest and best team. I believe it will help us a great deal. It will be our greatest glory as our players were playing their very best against the very best team.”

South Korea felt Japan’s wrath in their first meeting, a 14-2 Japan victory at Tokyo Dome. The Koreans bounced back with a 1-0 victory behind 5 1/3 shutout innings from pitcher Bong Jung Keun.

Bong and South Korea topped Japan again when the tournament moved to San Diego for the second round. Bong went 5 1/3 innings again, this time allowing a run on three hits, in the 4-1 victory in the teams’ third meeting.

Japan avenged the loss with a 6-2 win in the second-round finale to set up the fifth and final game.

The title game had everything a fan could ask for, a pitcher’s duel, loud and passionate fans and a game-winning hit in extra innings as Japan edged the Koreans one last time.

“Japan has many major leaguers,” Bong said. “Even the players who play in the Japanese league were the very best of Japan. I believe they are a great team and had great players. They did their very best until the end.”

Bong said his team had no regrets after the final out of the WBC saw it on the losing end.

“I am proud they (Japan) fought and did their best,” Bong said. “Korea, itself, did not give up until the very end (either). So our players and our team and all of the coaches and our manager have no regrets about leaving anything on the field in this game.”

South Korea gave the Japanese all they could handle and more, and seems poised to take its place as a baseball power.

“I believe that Korean baseball is a wonderful style,” Hara said. “It’s a wonderful country that has that specific style. You have organizational power and speed. They’re at the world level now, I believe.”

“Playing against Korea, there were three wins and two losses. In that sense Japan was able to lead somewhat. But in baseball, wins and losses are just paper-thin differences, especially in this World Baseball Classic,” Hara continued. “The fact two Asian countries were able to play each other in the finals is something that we and the Koreans can be proud of.”