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Korean national team aims to win the World Baseball Classic

(South) Korea defeated Japan 1-0 on Monday at Tokyo Dome in front of 42,879 fans to win the first place in Pool A of the World Baseball Classic. South Korea has improved to 3-1 while Japan dropped 2-1.

A difficult road lies a head for the Korean team. By having won the first seed as winner of Pool A, Korea will avoid having to face the winner of Pool B, where Cuba is heavily favored, and instead face the runner-up. However, in order to win the World Baseball Classic, it will eventually have to face strong teams such as the United States or the Dominican Republic that include Major Leaguers such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and David Ortiz.

Notably, the Korean team lacks players from MLB in the U.S. In the 2006 WBC, South Korea fielded eight Major Leaguers, including Park Chan-ho of the Phillies, Koo Dae-sung of the Mets, Kim Sun-woo and Kim Byung-hyun of the Rockies.

The current team has only one Major Leaguer on its roster: outfielder Choo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians. Choo batted .309 with 14 homers and 66 RBIs last season for the Indians.

In contrast, Japan has five Major Leaguers including Ichiro and his Mariners team mate Kenji Johjima, Akinori Iwamura, Kosuke Fukudome, and hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka. The players were crucial to the Japan’s overwhelming victory on Saturday.

In the lopsided defeat, Korean starting pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun allowed Japan to score five times. At the Beijing Olympics, when Korea defeated Japan twice on its way to win the gold medal, Kim gave up only two runs in 13 1/3 innings over two games against Japan.

However, Japan fielded a vastly different lineup at the time. They had no Major League Baseball players in Beijing, since the MLB clubs didn’t allow players to skip over to China mid-season.

Though Korea won the Asian round, team manager Kim In-sik found their performance wanting. Compared to the Beijing Olympics last year and the first WBC in 2006, they showed poor base running, he said.

While it is clear that there is a tough road ahead for Korea in the WBC, there is hope that Korea will again rely on its talented pitchers to give the team a decisive edge. In the inaugural WBC, Korean pitchers shut out or limited most of their opponents with a 2.00 ERA. On Monday, Korea once again revealed its pitching strength.

To win against Japan, the Korean team used four different pitchers to end the Monday game with a six-hit shutout. Among the Korean pitchers, former Major Leaguer Bong Jung-keun excelled, dominating the game with 5 1/3 scoreless innings. When the 28-year-old starter was on the mound he allowed only three singles. Bong played for the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds until the Reds released him in 2006.

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