Korea beats Japan, clinches semis; US still alive

Updated: March 16, 2006, 3:05 AM ET
Associated Press

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Team USA still has a chance to win the World Baseball Classic thanks to Korea.

Now, it's up to Roger Clemens and his teammates to take advantage of the opportunity.

Chan Ho Park and four relievers combined to pitch a six-hitter, Jong Beom Lee hit a two-run double in the eighth, and Korea beat Japan 2-1 Wednesday night to clinch a berth in the semifinals of the inaugural WBC.

The Americans, who would have been eliminated with a low-scoring win by Japan, can wrap up the other semifinal berth in Group One on Thursday with Clemens on the mound by beating Mexico.

"I'll tell you what, I don't know that I've ever been as nervous watching a baseball game as I was in this one," Team USA manager Buck Martinez said. "What a great game that was. It's a big relief, obviously. We were all very anxious for this game tonight. Japan is a very good baseball team.

"It was a well-played game, both teams showed tremendous hearts. There were great defensive plays and key pitching."

Martinez said there's no better big-game pitcher in baseball than Clemens, the 43-year-old right-hander who might be pitching his final game.

"The other night when we were playing Korea, Roger was studying the Mexican hitters' hitting charts," Martinez said. "He is into it. We certainly hope to give him some run support and let him do his thing."

Clemens, who has won 341 games in his big league career, has said he's leaning toward retirement after the Classic.

Korea went 3-0 in Round 2; the United States is 1-1, Japan finished 1-2, and Mexico is 0-2. The Americans beat Mexico 2-0 in the first round last week.

Korea and Japan were scoreless when Min Jae Kim drew a one-out walk in the eighth off Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Byung Kyu Lee followed with a single. Center fielder Tatsuhiko Kinjoh's throw to third arrived ahead of Kim, but Toshiaki Imae juggled the ball, and Lee took second on the play. Imae wasn't charged with an error.

Kyuji Fugikawa relieved, and Jong Beom Lee lined a 2-1 pitch to the left-center field gap. Lee raised his fists in triumph as the ball dropped in, but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a triple.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka homered off Dae Sung Koo to begin the bottom of the ninth for Japan's only run. Noguhiko Matsunaka hit a one-out single before Seung Kwan Oh struck out the next two batters to end the game.

Korea beat Japan 3-2 in first-round action last week in Tokyo.

"I think we are as good as they are, but we lost," Nishioka said through a translator. "We just have to face that Korea is a good team.

"We have to see how the U.S. does. We still have a chance."

The game was played before an announced crowd of 39,679 at Angel Stadium, with most of the fans pulling for Korea. They chanted and banged their blue and white Thunderstix, often cheered even when a Korean hit a foul ball, and booed enthusiastically every time Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki came to the plate.

When the game was over, with the crowd waving Korean flags, the winners took a victory lap around the stadium.

"I was aware of the fact that there were a lot of Koreans living in this area," Jong Beom Lee said. "I didn't know there were that many. I was very touched by their cheering.

"I'm very happy that we beat Japan and we will work much harder to be in the finals."

The semifinals will be played Saturday and the finals Monday at Petco Park in San Diego. The Dominican Republic and Cuba are the semifinalists from Group Two.

Park went five innings, allowing four hits while walking none and striking out three. The San Diego Padres' right-hander threw 66 pitches, 50 of them strikes.

Japan's Shunsuke Watanabe was even better, going six innings and giving up only one hit with two walks and three strikeouts. Watanabe, a 29-year-old right-hander with a submarine delivery, threw 74 pitches, 46 of them strikes, and retired the last 13 batters he faced.

Korea put two runners aboard with two outs in the second, but Watanabe struck out Min Jae Kim to end the inning. Korea wouldn't get another baserunner until the seventh.

Korean right fielder Jin Young Lee made a perfect throw to nail Akinori Iwamura trying to score from second on Tomoya Satozaki's two-out single in the bottom of the inning.

Iwamura left the game at that stage because of pain in his right hamstring, a spokeswoman for the Japanese team said, adding the injury wasn't serious. Iwamura was replaced by Imae.

"We gave everything we had," Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh said. "All the games were hard-fought games. It was also showing that our lineup had trouble scoring runs against real tough pitching."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press