South Korea’s Bong Jung Keun wanted at least one chance to face Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
The Japanese players will be hoping he won’t get another one.
Bong, a former major league pitcher, set the pace for the Korean hurlers and Kim Tae Kyun drove in the game’s only run as South Korea defeated Japan 1-0 on Monday at Tokyo Dome in front of 42,879 fans to win Pool A.
“I can say I had confidence facing Japan,” Bong said. “Even though they have great players, I had confidence I could win against them.”
The teams were playing to determine the winner of the group, both having already qualified for the second round in the U.S earlier in the tournament.
“Two days ago Japan beat us so bad,” South Korea manager Kim In Sik said. “It might be a funny story, but now everybody understands the importance of the pitcher in baseball.”
After falling to Japan 14-2 in a called game on Saturday, four South Korean pitchers combined to toss a six-hit shutout.
“Shutout loss right after scoring 14 runs, that’s baseball,” Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. “If the opposing pitchers pitch well, it’s tough to get hits.”
Bong, who pitched for the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds during his three-year MLB career, gave up two hits and struck out two in 5 1/3 scoreless innings to pickup the win.
“He was telling me, ‘Hey coach, I want to pitch against Japan,’ ” South Korea manager Kim In Sik said. “That impressed me. It was really brave.”
Bong followed the advice of Saturday’s losing pitcher, Kim Kwang Hyun, who gave up eight of Japan’s 14 runs, to help him prepare.
“I wanted to pitch against Japan at least once,” Bong said. “Kim Kwang Hyun knows about the Japanese hitters, so he helped me with the scouting report.”
Tokyo Yakult Swallows reliever Lim Chang Yong worked the final 1 2/3 innings to earn the save.
“Today our starting pitcher Bong Jung Keun, our closer Lim Chang Yong, and also Jong Hyun Wook and Ryu Hyun Jin, all of them pitched so well,” the South Korean manager said.
Kim Tae Kyun went 2-for-4 and made the difference for his team with an RBI single off Japan starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Kim finished the first round batting .417 with one home run and six RBIs.
The victory means Pool A winner South Korea avoids a matchup with the winner of Pool B in its first second round game. Beijing Olympic runnerup Cuba, which is grouped with Australia, Mexico and South Africa in the first round, is the favorite to win Pool B.
“Korea and Japan will be representing Asia in the second round,” Hara said. “Both teams will show to the world the ability of Asian baseball players. When we face each other, we will try our best and they will try their best.”
Both teams left for Haneda airport immediately after the game and will continue their preparations for the second round in Arizona.
Japan is scheduled to open a four-day training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 10. Samurai Japan will play the San Francisco Giants on March 11 and the Chicago Cubs on March 12 (in Mesa, Ariz.) then head to San Diego on the following day.
Iwakuma got off to a strong start on the mound against the Koreans, retiring the first nine batters he faced. He was a little shaky the rest of the way, allowing a run and walking three over the next two innings in the loss.
“In the first inning I was so hot,” Iwakuma said. “I could locate wherever I wanted. It was regrettable to give up the leadoff walk, but all of our pitchers hung in there. So I only have one regret, the leadoff walk,” he added, referring to the fourth inning.
The 2008 Pacific League MVP was relieved after 69 pitches (one less than the first-round’s 70-pitch limit), having given up a run on two hits with five strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
“It’s a shame that walking the leadoff batter led to allowing a run,” Iwakuma said. “I was able to make a good start, so I want to get myself in shape toward the next round.”
Lee Jong Woo led off the fourth with a walk then advanced to second on Jeong Keun Woo’s single. Iwakuma struck out the next batter before giving up Kim Tae Kyun’s RBI single.
Left fielder Kim Hyun Soo led off the seventh with a walk and Kim Tae Hyun followed with a double to left to give South Korea a golden opportunity to pad the lead.
The plan was foiled when shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima fielded a grounder by Lee Dae Ho and threw out Kim Hyun Soo at home and catcher Kenji Johjima threw out Kim Tae Kyun at third. The threat was averted when Lee Yong Kyu flew out to center, ending the inning.
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