Team Korea finish tuneup games with two wins and a tie

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Team Korea finish tuneup games with two wins and a tie

Kang Baek-ho hits a home run for the Korean national team in a tuneup game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Sunday. [NEWS1]

Kang Baek-ho hits a home run for the Korean national team in a tuneup game against the Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Sunday. [NEWS1]

 
The Korean national baseball team scraped together a 2-1 win over the Kiwoom Heroes on Sunday in their final tuneup match before heading to Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
 
Team Korea initially pulled ahead at the top of the fifth, only for the non-Olympian Heroes to draw level at the bottom of the sixth. Kang Baek-ho, the 21-year-old KT Wiz star, provided the go ahead run, hammering a ball over the left field wall in the eighth inning to give the national team a 2-1 win.
 
The hard-fought win won't do much to bolster the team's confidence. In three tuneup games over the last three days, Korea have only managed two wins and a tie, beating Futures League club Sangmu 9-0 on Friday before tying 2-2 with the LG Twins, or at least those members of the LG Twins not considered good enough to play for the Korean national baseball team, on Saturday.
 
That Korea's only comfortable win was over a minor league team isn't a ringing endorsement for a club that is supposed to be made up of the very best players that the country has to offer. The 2-2 win tie with the Twins will have been a difficult pill to swallow, and although the national team did beat the Heroes, that it was such a narrow victory doesn't offer much comfort.
 
The national team will fly to Japan tomorrow ahead of their first game of the 2020 Games on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Israel. The second game will be against the United States on July 31, after which the knockout stage will begin.
 
With only six teams in the tournament, an unusual format has been devised that sees the two groups play round robins, with all six teams then moving through to the knockout stage in positions weighted based on their performance in the group stage. In total, there will be 16 games of baseball running from July 28 to Aug. 7.
 
Although the newly-formed Korean squad has got off to a rough start with the Kiwoom and LG results, that doesn't necessarily mean the squad should be written off before the Games even begin. The teams they face in Japan won't know them as players or be used to their style of play, potentially offering opportunities for the young squad to stand out.
 
Korea heads to Tokyo as the defending champions in Olympic baseball, having won gold in 2008, the last time the event was contested. 

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]
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