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Sluggish slugging ends title defense

Korea settles for 2nd at Premier12 but still earns a spot at Games

Nov 19,2019
The Korean baseball team walks off the field after losing 3-5 to Japan in the final of the WBSC Premier12 at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on Sunday. [YONHAP]
The Korean baseball team failed to defend their title at the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Premier12, losing 3-5 to Japan at Tokyo Dome on Sunday.

Led by manager Kim Kyung-moon, Korea hoped to redeem itself after an 8-10 loss to Japan the previous day, but failed. Although it missed out on the title, Korea still earned its spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as they finished above Chinese Taipei and Australia in the final standing.

Korea got off to a great start by scoring three runs at the top of the first inning. After leadoff Lee Jung-hoo was given a walk, Kim Ha-seong hit a two-run home run off Japan’s starter Shun Yamaguchi to take a 2-0 lead. After grounding out Kim Jae-hwan and Park Byung-ho, Yamaguchi allowed another solo home run to Korea’s captain Kim Hyun-soo to extend the lead to 3-0.

But the lead didn’t last very long.

Starter Yang Hyeon-jong allowed Hayato Sakamoto to walk to first base and then gave up an RBI double to Japan’s cleanup hitter Seiya Suzuki to get Japan on the scoreboard at 3-1. At the bottom of the second, Yang started off strong by quickly getting two outs, but struggled with the last out count by giving up a walk and a hit. Then, Yang gave up a three-run home runs to Tetsuto Yamada to allow Japan to take a 4-3 lead.

Although Korea had multiple chances to score over the next few innings, they kept on making base running mistakes and failed to catch up with Japan. While Korea struggled to score, Japan picked up another run at the bottom of the seventh to once again extend the lead and win the title.

By giving up four runs throughout three innings, Yang picked up a loss.

“Nobody likes finishing second,” Kim was quoted as saying on Yonhap. “But our players put in so much hard work over the past month or so. And it’s all my fault as the manager that we lost. There’s no other reason.”

With a runner-up finish, Team Korea received $840,000 in prize money. In addition to the cash, they will be given an additional 100 million won ($85,896) from the KBO for earning a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The players that competed at the Premier12 will also have 60 days subtracted from the number of days left until they become eligible for free agency.

Throughout the tournament, Korea’s sluggers failed to live up to expectations. Cleanup hitter Park Byung-ho, who topped the KBO in home runs this season, was the biggest disappointment. Manager Kim assigned Park as Korea’s cleanup hitter throughout eight games, but he wasn’t able to fulfill his role. Park finished with a disappointing 0.179 batting average, only getting five hits and two RBIs in 28 at-bats.

Kim Jae-hwan hit Korea’s first home run, but his performance throughout the tournament wasn’t too impressive, as he finished with a 0.160 batting average and 0.280 slugging percentage. Yang Eui-ji, who topped the KBO in batting average this season, was the biggest disappointment of all, as he had a 0.087 batting average throughout the tournament.

“Our sluggers never came around,” Kim was quoted as saying. “And that just goes to show you baseball is not an easy game to play. I think they put too much pressure on themselves and they couldn’t overcome that burden.”

Despite the disappointment of missing the title, Team Korea still had a positive takeaway from the tournament - the potential of the team’s young players.

Following the game, shortstop Kim Ha-seong and outfielder Lee were named to the All-World Team, a fantasy team composed of the very best players in the tournament.

Lee had an impressive 0.385 batting average while Kim had a 0.333 batting average.

Despite playing in his first tournament with the senior national team, Kang Baek-ho still continued to perform well. Although he mostly appeared as a pinch hitter, he still met expectations with his aggressive at-bats. In seven at-bats, Kang had two hits and three RBIs with a 0.286 batting average.

“Young guys, like Lee Jung-hoo and Kang Baek-ho, really stepped up, and it’s on some veterans that we didn’t win the title,” captain Kim Hyun-soo was quoted as saying. “I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for all their hard work and camaraderie.”

Korea may have walked away with a silver medal this time, but they will have a shot at redemption at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Once again, Korea will be entering the event as defending champion. Korea won its first-ever gold in baseball at the Olympics back in 2008. Following the 2008 Games in Beijing, baseball was removed from the Olympics and will return for the first time at the Games next year.

“We’ll try to put this disappointment behind us and get ready for the battle next summer [during the Olympics],” manager Kim was quoted as saying. “I’ll keep my eyes out on players who could be added to the national team.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG, PARk SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]


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