South Korea didn’t need any ninth-inning heroics in the Premier 12 final.
It had this one well in hand pretty early on.
Kim Hyun-soo drove in three runs, slugger Park Byung-ho, likely MLB-bound, connected on a towering three-run homer, and the South Koreans battered the U.S. pitching staff on their way to being crowned inaugural champions of the Premier 12 with a 8-0 victory in the final on Saturday at Tokyo Dome.
“As expected they were very strong,” Korean manager Kim In-sik said of the Americans. “We’d faced them once and we were aware of that, and we were able to have a big inning a score a lot of runs.”
South Korea finished the tournament with an 6-2 record and avenged losses against Japan, rallying from three runs down in the ninth inning, and the U.S. in the semifinal and final.
Kim Hyun-soo was named Premier 12 MVP. Japan’s Shohei Otani won the tournament’s ERA title and Hayato Sakamoto was named outstanding defensive player.
“I never expected to win such an award,” Kim said. “Lee Dae Ho didn’t hit as he usually does, and (before the tournament) I’d thought that he might be the MVP. This is my first time to win an MVP award, so I’m happy about that.”
Kim Hyun-soo, described as the “No. 1 franchise player” for the Doosan Bears, this year’s Korean Series champions, by one member of the Korean traveling party, led the way in the final with three hits and a pair of RBI doubles. The Korean Baseball Organization superstar finished the tournament with a .333 average, four doubles, a triple and 12 RBIs.
Park showed why the Minnesota Twins stepped up to the plate with a $12.8 million posting fee when he sent a 138-kph slider from Brooks Pounders deep to left in the fourth for his only hit of the night. The Twins have to reach an agreement with the Nexen Heroes slugger over the next three weeks or he returns to KBO next season.
“You can tell he’s a dangerous hitter,” U.S. manager Willie Randolph said. “We wanted to execute a pitch and didn’t and we paid for it with a big three-run homer. We saw him early on, and I noticed him right off the bat.
“Park really stood out to me as someone who is a strong hitter, who has an idea of what he’s doing up there.”
The South Korean lineup connected on 13 hits, with Kim Hyun-soo and Chang Won-jun each having a three-hit night. Chang was credited with an RBI after drawing a bases-loaded walk in the ninth.
The game was a far cry from their earlier meeting on Nov. 15, which the U.S. won 3-2 in 10 innings.
“We made a lot of adjustments after the last game,” Kim Hyun-soo said. “We focused on being able to hit their fastballs and I think our strategy worked out well.”
Kim Kwang-hyun got the start for the Koreans and threw five innings of shutout ball, allowing four hits and striking out five in the winning effort.
There weren’t many bright spots for Team USA, which had won three straight games and ended the tournament with a 5-3 record.
“We just got beat very thoroughly today against a very good Korean team that was very well balanced,” Randolph said. “They swung the bats, obviously, they had the big home run and they pitched really well.”
Starter Zack Segovia gave up two runs on four hits and walked three batters in two-plus innings. Segovia was charged with the loss.
The U.S. was dealt a blow from Major League Baseball before even taking the field against the Koreans on Saturday.
The deadline for adding players to the 40-man roster in MLB was 8 p.m. on Friday in the U.S. (10 a.m. Saturday morning in Japan) and Team USA members Brett Eibner, an outfielder, and pitchers J.B. Wendelken and Jake Barrett were called up by the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks respectively. Because MLB isn’t allowing players on 40-man rosters to participate in the Premier 12, the promotions meant the trio was taken off the roster before the final.
Eibner was a notable subtraction. The 26-year-old had started every game for the U.S. and hit .259 with a double, a triple, and a team-high seven RBIs. One of those RBIs came in the 10th inning of the Team USA’s 3-2 win over the South Koreans in their first meeting on Nov. 15.
“It’s something out of our control,” Randolph said. “It’s a 40-man roster thing. You never want to lose your third hitter and your closer and your set-up guy. But no excuses. We got beat by a better team today. Korea played outstanding baseball.”
Lee Yong-kyu began the scoring with an RBI double off starter Zack Segovia in the first inning. Kim Hyun-soo added to the lead with an RBI double in the third.
Kim Hyun-soo knocked in two more runs with another double in the fourth to make the score 4-0 and Park put a jolt into the crowd with his three-run shot off Pounders later in the frame.