Baseball

South Korea rallies past Mexico, secures 2020 Olympic berth

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

South Korea didn’t just book a spot in the Premier12 final with its win over Mexico on Friday night.

The South Koreans also booked a return trip to Japan for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

South Korea responded to a sudden two-run deficit by exploding for seven runs in the fifth inning and punched its ticket for the Olympic baseball tournament — joining Japan which was in automatically as the host nation and the Europe/Africa qualifier Israel — with a 7-3 win over Mexico in the Premier12 Super Round on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.

“By winning this game, we’re able to go to the Olympics, so I’m very happy about that,” said team captain Kim Hyun-soo, who had a three-run double during the fifth inning. “We have a game tomorrow against Japan tomorrow and I want to do my best.”

South Korea will face Japan in the final Super Round Game on Saturday and then again in the tournament final in Sunday.

South Korea will send Lee Seung-ho to the mound for Saturday’s game, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Tokyo Dome. Japan manager Atsunori Inaba, who was present for Friday’s contest, will hand the ball to Takayuki Kishi.

“Today were able to clinch a berth for the Olympics next year,” said South Korean manager Kim Kyung-moon “So I feel like our burden has been somewhat lightened. But tomorrow, as we’d already planned, we’re going try to use our power to have a good game (against Japan).”

The Koreans claimed an Olympic berth for being the highest-placed finisher from Asia/Oceania, excluding Japan.

Mexico, despite the loss, is still in the running to claim the spot for the highest-finisher from the Americas.

“It was a difficult in the earlier innings of the game,” Mexico manager Juan Castro said. “But that can happen in a baseball game. However, in today’s game, we has some troubel in the earlier innings and I think the Korean team took advantage of that opportunity.”

South Korea had been held to just a hit and a walk though the first four innings at the Big Egg. The Korans picked their spots in the fifth as the Mexican pitchers had trouble finding the strike zone.

The Koreans drew walks to set the table and got some timely hits to race past Mexico and out to a big lead.

An eventful fifth got going in the top half, when Jonathan Jones gave Mexico a 2-0 lead with a two-run home run to left.

The Mexican leadoff man has been one of the Premier12’s best players and has hit home runs in his last three games, including on Wednesday against Japan.

The bottom half of the frame began with Kim Hyun-soo, a former Baltimore Orioles players, and Yang Euiji drawing walks and Choi Jeong hitting a single to load the bases. Min Byung-hun hit a blooper that landed in shallow center to drive in one run and Park Min-woo drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the score at 2-2.

The Koreans were just getting started.

Lee Jung-hoo, son of Korean legend Lee Jong-beom (the “Ichiro of Korea”) hit a ball that leaping second baseman Esteban Quiroz couldn’t quite catch, allowing the tiebreaking run to score. Quiroz recovered in time to throw to second for the first out of the inning.

Kim Ha-seong then made it 4-2 with a single to right. Mexico pitcher Humberto Castellanos retired the next batter to bring Kim Hyun-soo back to the plate.

The Korean outfielder, who was the MVP of the 2015 Premier12, cleared the bases with a double that made the score 7-2.

The Mexican pitching staff struggled with its control during the inning, issuing three walks and hitting one batter. Four pitchers took the mound for Mexico in the fifth and all four were charged with at least one run.

Mexico managed to pull a run back in the sixth, with Ali Solis following a double by the Hanshin Tigers’ Efren Navarro with an RBI two-bagger.

Eight of South Korea’s nine starters reached bases during the win.

South Korea starter Park Jong-hun allowed two runs over 4 1/3 innings to earn the win.