Final in 7

Japan 14


Korea 2


5:00 AM ET, March 7, 2009

123456789 R H E
JPN 3501221XX 14 14 0
KOR 2000000XX 2 4 1
W:D. Matsuzaka (1-0)
L:K. Kim (0-1)

Japan's bats come alive in mercy-rule win over Korea

Associated Press

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.


Game Information

Game Time: 2:48
Weather: indoors
Umpires: Home Plate - Ed Hickox, First Base - Jorge Perez, Second Base - Andy Fletcher, Third Base - Daniel Toledo