Korea beats Mexico in World Classic second round
Korean starter Seo Jae-weong pitched 5 1/3 strong innings, allowing just two hits and a run, and first baseman Lee Seung-yeop provided all the scoring Korea needed with a two-run home run off Mexican starter Rodrigo Lopez in the bottom of the first inning. It was Lee's fourth home run of the tournament.
Mexico's left fielder Luis A. Garcia responded with a solo shot in the top of the third to cut the lead in half, but the team couldn't muster any more offense against Korean pitching.
Park Chan-ho notched his third save of the tournament, striking out Geronimo Gil to close the game with a runner on third base.
Korean hitters were patient from the start, working the counts with Lopez and forcing the right-hander to throw a whopping 72 pitches through just three innings. The pitch count limit for the second round is 80 pitches per hurler.
As it did in the first round, Korea's infield defense continued to help out its pitchers, with shortstop Park Jin-man and second baseman Kim Jong-kook making several spectacular plays.
Seo was able to keep Mexican hitters at bay with a blend of change ups, curve balls, and fastballs. The Korean bullpen, with Koo Dae-sung, Chong Tae-hyon and Bong Jung-keun pitching before Park, stifled Mexico's offense to just two more hits.
After the two teams exchanged runs through the first three innings, both pitchers settled down, turning the game into a defensive affair. Mexico's Garcia robbed Park Jin-man of a sure double with a running catch in the bottom of the fifth, and Park responded with a great play at shortstop in the top of the sixth.
Team Mexico entered the tournament as one of the underrated squads, and advanced to the second round atop Pool B thanks to strong offense and solid pitching. Now Mexico faces a daunting task of possibly having to beat both the United States and Japan to have a shot at advancing to the semifinals.
The task also doesn't get any easier for Koreans, who face the U.S. team today. The Americans defeated Japan 4-3 in yesterday's first Pool 1 game. With the score tied at three in the bottom of the ninth inning, U.S. designated hitter Alex Rodriguez hit an infield single up the middle with the bases loaded for the game-winning RBI. Third baseman Chipper Jones and first baseman Derrek Lee hit a solo home run and a two-run shot, respectively, for the U.S. team.
Ichiro Suzuki got Japan on board with a leadoff home run off U.S. starter Jake Peavy in the first inning, and shortstop Munenori Kawasaki hit a two-run single in the second for the early 3-0 lead.
After Jones's home run, Peavy settled down, and the U.S. bullpen sent out five major league relievers to shut down the Japanese offense for the last four innings.
The game wasn't without controversy. In the top of the eighth, Tsuyoshi Nishioka tagged from third for a go-ahead run on a shallow fly to the left by Akinori Iwamura. Though television replays showed the runner clearly left the base a split second after U.S. left fielder Randy Winn made the catch, the home plate umpire Bob Davidson ruled that Nishioka took off before the catch and the score remained tied.
After the U.S. game, Korea will face off with Japan on Thursday for the second time this tournament, after taking the first grudge match 3-2 in the first round.
In the day's first match, Cuba defeated Venezuela 7-2 in an upset. Venezuelan starter Johan Santana, 2004 American League Cy Young winner for the Minnesota Twins, lost his second straight game in the tournament despite allowing just two hits and a run in five innings pitched.
In another Pool 2 game, Puerto Rico ran riot on the Dominican Republic 7-1 in the Latin American battle. Puerto Rican pitchers Javier Vazquez, Jose Santiago, Kiko Calero and J.C. Romero combined to allow just six hits and one run against the Dominican lineup that includes four players with at least 25 homers from the last major league season. Jose Cruz Jr. went 3-for-5 with three RBIs for Puerto Rico.
The top two finishers from each of the two pools will advance to the semifinals. They will play each other again, with the winners advancing to the championship match next Monday (next Tuesday Korean time) in PETCO Park in San Diego.
by Yoo Jee-ho