Japan's bats come alive in mercy-rule win over Korea
TOKYO -- Ichiro Suzuki broke out of a slump Saturday as defending champion Japan routed South Korea 14-2 in seven innings to advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
Suzuki, who went hitless in five at-bats in Japan's 4-0 win over
China on Thursday, went 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Japan
improved to 2-0 in Pool A of the 16-nation tournament and booked a
spot in the second round which starts March 15 in San Diego. "It's been a while since I felt comfortable at the plate,"
Suzuki said. "In an important game like this, you are just trying
to advance the runners." Olympic champion South Korea will play China on Sunday with the
winner also advancing. China upset Taiwan 4-1 Saturday in the first
game. Playing before a capacity crowd of 45,640, Suzuki set the tone
for Japan in the game's first at-bat with a sharp line drive to
right off South Korean starter Kim Kwang-hyun. The Seattle outfielder advanced to second on a Hiroyuki Nakajima
single and then scored Japan's first run on Norichika Aoki's single
up the middle. "His leadoff single was huge," said Japan manager Tatsunori
Hara. "He's a great hitter and I imagine he's been under a lot of
pressure. It was an important game for us and thanks to Ichiro we
were able to get off to a good start." Japan took a 3-0 first-inning lead on Seiichi Uchikawa's double
down the left field line that scored Nakajima and Aoki. Boston Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the
2006 WBC, picked up the win after holding Korea to two runs on four
hits over four innings. South Korea cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the first on a
two-run homer by cleanup-hitter Kim Tae-kyun but the momentum
quickly shifted back to Japan in the second inning. Suzuki, who batted 3-for-23 in exhibition games leading up to
the tournament, laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Kenji Johjima
to third and Akinori Iwamura to second. Kim then walked in a run, Aoki added another on a fielder's
choice before Shuichi Murata connected for a three-run homer to
left, knocking Kim out of the game and giving Japan a commanding
8-2 lead. Suzuki singled to lead off the fourth, stole second and scored
to make it 9-2 when South Korea third baseman Lee Dae-ho made an
error on a Nakajima grounder. Japan scored two more runs in the top of the fifth on a double
by Nakajima and a sacrifice fly by Aoki. Kenji Johjima then hit a
two-run homer in the sixth to make it 13-2. Michihiro Ogasawara drove in a run in the top of the seventh
before Japan reliever Minoru Iwata struck out Lee Bum-ho for the
third out in the bottom of seventh as the game ended under the
tournament's mercy rule. Korea beat Japan twice in the Olympics before going on to win
the gold medal. Japan finished fourth. The Koreans also beat Japan twice in the 2006 WBC but had to
settle for third place. "Japan has four or five major leaguers and we don't have
enough," said South Korea's manager Kim In-sik. "We won in the
Olympics last year but are missing several key players and that's a
big difference." Outfielder Choo Shin-soo of the Cleveland Indians is the only major leaguer on South Korea's roster. Lee Seung-yeop was a standout in the 2006 WBC and the Olympics,
but decided to skip this year's tournament to prepare for the
upcoming season with the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese league.
N Aoki singled to shallow center, I Suzuki scored, H Nakajima to second.
S Uchikawa doubled to left, H Nakajima and N Aoki scored.
T Kim homered to left, K Jeong scored.
H Nakajima walked, K Johjima scored, A Iwamura to third, I Suzuki to second.
N Aoki grounded into fielder's choice to shortstop, A Iwamura scored, H Nakajima out at second, I Suzuki to third.
S Murata homered to left, I Suzuki and N Aoki scored.
H Nakajima safe at second on error by third baseman D Lee, I Suzuki scored.
H Nakajima doubled to left, K Johjima scored, A Iwamura to third.
N Aoki hit sacrifice fly to center, A Iwamura scored, H Nakajima to third.
K Johjima homered to left, K Fukudome scored.
M Ogasawara grounded out to first, H Nakajima scored, N Aoki to second.