Daisuke Matsuzaka will undoubtedly be the star attraction before Japan takes on South Korea on Saturday night.
He’d just better hope South Korean ace Kim Kwang Hyun isn’t the one getting all the attention when the game ends.
Kim hasn’t lost to a Japanese team since 2005 and since then as left the national team and two Japan Series champions in his wake.
He’s widely expected to get the nod against Japan at Tokyo Dome with a berth in the second round on the line for the winner.
He’ll match wits with Matsuzaka, who went 18-3 for the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and was the MVP of the 2006 WBC.
“I first saw Matsuzaka in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics,” South Korea manager Kim In Sik recalled. “In 2000, he threw a lot of fastballs. The difference between Matsuzaka then and today is that he uses more breaking balls.”
That could pose a problem for the Koreans, who struggled to hit breaking balls from the Taiwan pitchers.
“We had a tough time against their breaking balls,” Kim said. “A lot of our hitters came back to the dugout saying ‘hey that’s a dancing ball’ and ‘it’s hard to hit.’ “
Kim, meanwhile, has been known to hit 150 km with his fastball and also has an effective slider in his arsenal of pitches.
Kim has been Japan’s nemesis in recent years and most recently defeated the Japanese in the semifinals of the Beijing Olympics. He allowed one run and six hits over eight innings send Senichi Hoshino’s men packing.
Kim burst onto the scene in the Korean Baseball Organization with the SK Wyverns in 2007, going just 3-7 with a 3.67 ERA in 77 innings. But he was a stellar performer in that season’s Korean Series, allowing just one hit in 7 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts in the Wyvern’s Game 4 win.
Following the Korean Series he took down the Japan Series champion Chunichi Dragons in the Asia Series. Kim recorded the first-ever winning decision against a Japanese team in the event.
Kim was the toast of the KBO in his second season, winning the MVP award after going 16-4 with a 2.39 ERA and 150 strikeouts. He capped the 2008 season by starting the Wyverns’ victory over the Seibu Lions in the Asia Series in November.
The 20-year-old now faces a Japan squad that wasted a number of opportunities against the Chinese pitching staff in its 4-0 win over China on Thursday.
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