Lee carrying big stick for Korea

Originally Published: March 13, 2006
By Jim Allen | Special to ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- There seems to be no stopping Seung Yeop Lee.

The left-handed-hitting first baseman, who failed to draw a major-league offer after his record-setting 56-home run season in 2003, has continued to make himself known to big leaguers in the World Baseball Classic.

Lee homered for the fourth straight game, hitting his tournament-high fifth dinger as Korea smashed Team USA 7-3 on Monday at Angel Stadium.

Lee jumped to Japan to join Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines after considering an offer by the Los Angeles Dodgers. While the proposed major-league deal was respectable enough, Lee didn't like the tone of the sales pitch, his agent, Kim Ki Ju, said at the time.

"The Dodgers gave the best offer," said Kim. "But it was clear they didn't have a very high opinion of him. I think it hurt his pride."

Although he has struggled against pitching in Japan's Pacific League, Lee found his stroke in interleague play against clubs from the rival Central League last season, hitting .330 with 12 homers in 29 games. He continued that in the Japan Series, putting three out of reach in the Marines' four-game sweep.

Lee moved to a CL club in homer-friendly Tokyo Dome in the offseason, and Valentine has suggested Lee will try again for the majors in 2007.

If the WBC is Lee's major-league audition, it is going extremely well. With his first-inning homer, he gave his club the lead for good for the fourth straight game.

A first-inning sacrifice fly started Korea on the road to a 10-1 victory over China, in which he later hit a pair of homers. His eighth-inning two-run shot sank Japan in Korea's stunning 3-2 upset over Japan in the Pool A finale. And Lee did it again with a two-run shot that beat Mexico 2-1 on Sunday.

After hurting the first pitch he saw from Dontrelle Willis, Lee saw few good offerings after that. He walked twice, the second time intentionally, and scored both times, giving him the tournament lead in runs as well.

Japan calls for order

Nippon Professional Baseball has filed an official protest over the umpiring fiasco in Anaheim that cost Team Japan a crucial run in Sunday's Pool 1 opener.

Kazuo Hasegawa, the general secretary of the commissioners' office said: "The play was representative of a systematic failure on the part of the World Baseball Classic's organization and its one-sided planning."

Hasegawa asserted that having American umpires in charge of an international game involving the United States encouraged a perception of bias and this issue would need to be solved if the WBC were to achieve its full potential.

Manager Sadaharu Oh, who held a team meeting following the bitter defeat, said the matter was out of his hands.

"It is a problem for NPB, not for us [Team Japan]," Oh said after his team completed a workout on Monday. "Our job is to concentrate on our job on the field."

Japan has two games remaining -- Mexico on Tuesday and undefeated Asian rival Korea on Wednesday -- and will need to win both to maintain any chance of advancing to the semifinals on March 18. This was the point Oh drove home to his men on Sunday.

"Obviously, we can't be satisfied with that decision," said Central League home run king Takahiro Arai. "We just have to get over it and go forward. We need to take this emotion and turn it against our opponents, make it our strength.

"We have two games left. We can still take care of business and settle things with the United States on the 18th. That's what the manager told us."

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was at the center of the controversy as the runner on third whom umpire Bob Davidson believed left early, said his overall impression is still positive.

"I don't have any worries," he said. "Look, the fans here gave us standing ovation for our defense. You have to appreciate their passion for the game and respect that.

"Likewise, I have a lot of respect for the American team and for the major leaguers. That has not changed. But about the umpiring, well, that's something I don't think I'll ever understand."

Kazuhiro Wada, last season's Pacific League batting champ, believes the Japanese were well-prepared for the kind of game they have to play to succeed.

"In this kind of do-or-die situation, this isn't a power game," said Wada. "You could see that in yesterday's game. The Americans have a lot of power, but they are there bunting, hitting behind the runner. That is why they are tough, because they do the little things well, too.

"We are familiar at that kind of game. We grew up on it [in high school baseball]. As a professional player [in a season format], you don't feel that pressure so much on a daily basis, but playing for your country makes that responsibility palpable. There is no room for defeat."

Fireballer Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to start Tuesday against Mexico, which is expected to counter with Esteban Loaiza of the Oakland A's.

Jim Allen covers baseball for The Daily Yomiuri in Japan.