Korea stays unbeaten, beats USA
By Jim Street / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Who are these guys, anyway?
The only unbeaten team in the World Baseball Classic powered its way to another victory Monday night as surprisingly adept-at-everything Korea defeated Team USA, 7-3, before 21,288 at Angel Stadium.
First baseman Seung-Yeop Lee hit another home run, his fifth of the tournament, Hee-Seop Choi slugged his first -- in a pinch-hit role -- and the Korea pitching staff stymied the best lineup it has seen so far in the 16-team tournament as Korea improved to 2-0 in Round 2 and 5-0 overall.
Korea is sitting in the semifinals cat-bird seat heading into Wednesday night's game against Japan. The top two teams here advance to the semis in San Diego. Japan, Mexico and the United States each have one loss in this round-robin. If Mexico beats Japan Tuesday night, Korea reaches the semis.
"Something happened tonight which nobody could believe," Korea manager In Sik Kim said. "Not just the USA team, which is (some) of the best of all the best Major Leaguers, but our players (beat) these players and it's very difficult to believe what happened.
"But this is baseball and you never know what might happen."
With the Americans starting left-hander Dontrelle Willis, Korea manager Kim kept Choi on the bench, saving him for later in the game when a left-handed pinch-hitter was needed.
That moment arrived in the fourth inning.
With two on, two outs and right-hander Dan Wheeler on the mound, Kim made a designated hitter switch, replacing Tae Kyun Kim with Choi, batting just .214 (3-for-14) with one RBI in the Classic.
Choi hit a fastball that sailed high and deep to right field, hugging the foul line the entire way. It landed a few inches inside the foul pole, too far away for right fielder Vernon Wells to do anything about it.
"I thought it might be a foul ball, or that the right fielder would catch it," Choi said. "It wasn't until I heard all the cheering from Korean fans that I realized that I had hit a home run."
A precarious two-run lead suddenly was a five-run bulge and wrecked some understandable strategy by Team USA manager Buck Martinez. There were two out and none on when Min Jae Kim lined a ground-rule double into left-center.
With first base open and Seung-Yeop coming to bat, Martinez ordered an intentional walk. No surprise there as the first baseman already had hit his fifth home run of the Classic -- a solo blast in the first inning off Willis.
"Lee has been red hot in this tournament," Martinez said. "We were well aware of how he did in Tokyo (three home runs) and were trying to keep the ball away from him, hoping to get him to chase a ball. But the ball got too much of the plate."
As for Choi, "We know a lot about him and tried to get the ball in on him, but the ball ran back over the plate. He got enough of it to get it over the fence and it was a big hit for them at the time."
The first pitch Seung-Yeop saw from Willis was hit so high and so hard that center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., shading Seung-Yeop to left field, remained stationary as he watched the flight of the ball. It finally landed several rows into the seats just to the right-field side of the green tarp that serves as a hitting background.
Six Korea pitchers, starting with winner Min Han Son, stopped Team USA on nine hits, one of them a solo home run by Griffey in the third inning. Three more came in the ninth when the Americans scored two runs in a last-gasp effort to pull out their second win in Round 2.
Kim said his game plan was to use as many pitchers as needed to subdue the Americans and he mixed and matched his way through nine innings.
There were so many changes that Team USA designated hitter Chipper Jones batted five times and faced four different pitchers, all seemingly with different arm angles.
"I was not at all surprised at the quality of their pitchers," Martinez said. "I think they executed very well. There were a couple of times when they made great pitches with their splits and located their fastballs very effectively and for the second game in a row we have seen quality pitchers come out of the bullpen.
"It's always a challenge when you have to face good, quality pitchers in successive at-bats."
Before the game, Martinez talked about his impressions of the Far East hitters.
"We think the Korean team has the same kind of discipline at the plate as the Japanese team," he said. "We are amazed as to how they can cover both sides of the plate. Jake (Peavy) and Brian (Schneider) would come back after each inning shaking their heads on how pitches would be six or seven inches inside and they would still square up on the ball and also hit outside pitches.
"The plate coverage was remarkable. Bust them inside and they could fight it off. Then go outside and they would hit them, too."
Seeing again was proof positive that the Far East teams know how to play the game.
Jim Street is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.