Home runs fly as baseball team gets super win

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Home runs fly as baseball team gets super win


Park Byung-ho, left, hits a solo home run at the top of third inning during Korea’s super round game against Japan at the 2018 Asian Games at Gelora Bung Karno Baseball Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday. [YONHAP]

Korea defeated Japan 5-1 in a key baseball game on Thursday that kept alive the hope of a third straight Asian Games gold.

Korea launched three solo home runs and pounded out 14 hits in the super round game at Gelora Bung Karno Baseball Field in Jakarta.

Korea will face China on Friday at the same venue in the final super round game and must beat the heavy underdog to have a chance to reach the gold medal match.

Korea is in the super round as the No. 2 seed from Group B, behind Taiwan. They’re scheduled to play Japan and China, the top two seeds from Group A, once each. The top two nations after the super round will meet in Saturday’s gold medal game.

Under tournament rules, the four qualified teams’ head-to-head records from the preliminary round carry over to the super round.

This means Korea, following a 2-1 opening defeat to Taiwan, brought that loss to the super round and is now 1-1 in this stage.

Taiwan will improve to 2-0 if it beats China as expected later Thursday.

If Taiwan and Korea win both super round games, then they will clash in the gold medal game.

If Taiwan loses both super round games and Korea beats China today, then Korea and Japan will face off in the gold medal game.

It wasn’t all good news for Korea. Starter Choi Won-tae left the game after two shutout innings with right elbow pain. The right-hander’s status for upcoming games isn’t clear.

Manager Sun Dong-yol sent out three pitchers to keep Japan in check over the final seven innings.

Shortstop Kim Ha-seong and first baseman Park Byung-ho, Nexen Heroes teammates in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), each blasted a solo home run in the top of the third. Kim first took starter Katsutoshi Satake over the left field wall, with left fielder Kohei Sasagawa barely moving from his spot. Two batters later, Park hammered a line drive shot over the deepest part of the park at left center.

Park also flashed the leather at first base in the second inning. With a man at second with two outs and starter Choi Won-tae struggling to find the zone, Park made a fine sliding catch to his right to rob Momotaro Matsumoto of an RBI hit.

Japan had men at the corners with two outs in the third, but Korea’s second pitcher, Lee Yong-chan, got Koji Chikamoto to pop out to shortstop to escape the jam.

And Korea made Japan pay for the missed opportunity, as Hwang Jae-gyun blasted his tournament-leading fourth home run in the top of the fourth.

On a 0-1 count, Hwang jumped on a hanging curveball that dropped in at belt-high and sent it well over the left field wall.

Hwang, who had batted eighth in three previous games, hit in the ninth spot in this game.

Korea added two runs in the fifth to go up 5-0, thanks to Yang Eui-ji’s RBI double and Son Ah-seop’s groundout.

Japan got a run back in the bottom of the sixth with Sasagawa’s sacrifice fly. Japan pressed for more one last time in the bottom of the eighth. But with runners at the corners and one out, Korean reliever Ham Deok-ju struck out Japan’s No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, Chikamoto and Sasagawa, to quell hopes of a comeback.

Ham had four strikeouts in two innings of relief work.

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