SAN DIEGO — Yu Darvish began to look like his normal self on the mound early in the second inning of Japan’s game against South Korea in the World Baseball Classic.
By then, it was already much too late.
South Korea pounced on Darvish in the first and pitcher Bong Jung Keun had another quality start as South Korea reached the semifinals of the WBC with a 4-1 win over Japan on Tuesday night at PETCO Park.
“We got three runs in the first inning,” South Korea manager Kim In Sik said. “I think we are very much satisfied.”
Darvish fell behind in the count 2-0 to the first four batters he faced and struggled to find the strike zone throughout most of the first inning. He paid the price as the Olympic champions responded by scoring three runs to take an early lead.
“The three runs (in the first), that was hard,” Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. “Darvish’s condition was good, but he struggled with locating the ball at the beginning.
“Likewise, our offense wasn’t able to get hits consistently,” he added.
The 22-year-old regained his form to start the second and retired 12 of the next 13 batters, striking out six of them, before being relieved after reaching the WBC’s pitch-count limit.
“I was throwing good balls from the first inning,” Darvish said. “It was just unfortunate that they hit the balls to nice locations. I was able to throw as usual.”
Darvish allowed three runs, two earned, on four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk over five innings.
“Darvish was getting better and better as the game wore on,” catcher Kenji Johjima said. “But that we gave up the first run to them, it cost us.”
Conversely, Bong was in control from the start and earned his second straight victory over Japan in the WBC.
The former major leaguer relied heavily on his fastball and a good curveball, allowing one run on three hits with a strikeout and three walks over 5 1/3 innings.
Tokyo Yakult Swallows closer Lim Chang Yong retired both batters he faced in the ninth to earn the save.
“We are very happy we are one of the four teams (in the semifinals),” Bong said.
Johjima didn’t last much longer than Bong, getting ejected in the top of the seventh. Angry about a called third strike, Johjima left his bat at the plate on his way back to the dugout before being ejected by umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
The act of leaving equipment at the plate with less than two outs is grounds for ejection according to MLB rules.
“I don’t know why I was ejected,” Johjima said, “because I didn’t slam the bat or anything.”
The loss sends Japan into a rematch against Cuba on Wednesday, with the winner advancing to the semifinal round and the loser eliminated. Japan beat Cuba 6-0 in their last meeting on March 15.
Cuba manager Higinio Velez didn’t reveal which team he would rather face before the game, but said his expectations would be the same no matter the opponent.
“Just play to win and move on to the semifinal round,” Velez said of how he wanted to approach the game.
Leadoff hitter Lee Yong Kyu began the game for South Korea with a single and stole second before reaching third on a hit by Jeong Keun Woo. Kim Hyun Soo drove him in with a ground ball to second to make the score 1-0.
Lee Jin Young made the score 3-0 with a two-run single later in the first.
“Their pitcher has a fast ball and a good ball, and he’s the best pitcher in Japan,” Lee Jin Young said of Darvish. “I thought he was throwing the ball to the outside, so as a left-hander I focused on that.”
Japan’s only run came in the fifth when Ichiro Suzuki ground into a fielder’s choice, allowing Kosuke Fukudome to score.
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