Taipei slams China in pool finale
By Stephen Ellsesser / Special to MLB.com
| Box score|
TOKYO -- On the other side of its first World Baseball Classic, Chinese Taipei will always remember its win against China.Winless heading into the Classic's final day, Taipei rode Yung Chi Chen's monster day to a 12-3 win over the rival Chinese, saving face and keeping Asian baseball's pecking order somewhat intact. Chen's main contribution was a third-inning grand slam, his first from his days in the sandlots all the way up to now. Taipei had a 1-0 lead after three innings, and Chen's left-field shot blew the game open. "Today I didn't think too much before I went to the batters' box," Chen said. "I just wanted to do something good." Chen has a gift for understatement, and apparently, he can swing the bat. Chen was Chinese pitching's kryptonite, going 4-for-6 with the homer and three doubles, one each to left, right and center field. He drove in five runs and scored four times. "I just hope I can have a good season in 2006 like I did in the last half of last season," said Chen, a Mariners prospect who led Class-A Wisconsin with 147 hits while posting 80 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2005. Both China and Chinese Taipei were charged up heading into the game, but Taipei was the stronger team, and the win against mainland China was meaningful for Taiwanese players who played in the WBC under the banner of Chinese Taipei because Taiwan's sovereignty is not recognized by China. "Of course it was meaningful for us," Taiwan manager Hua-Wei Lin said of going up against China. "This was a historic win and it was our only win." China manager Jim Lefebvre said the tension surrounding the battle of the Taiwan Strait may have affected his players. "I think that nerves were a factor today," Lefebvre said. "This was a big game for us." Both China and Taipei came into Sunday's game thinking they could win, but Chen's hitting took China out of the picture long before Wang Wei's two-RBI double in the bottom of the sixth. Wang scored Liu Guangbiao, who led off the sixth with the double, and Zhang Yufeng, who walked. Chen, Taipei's leadoff hitter, had bases loaded in the fourth after Chin-Lung Hu doubled, Chia-Hsien Hsieh singled and Feng-Ming Chen walked. Between Hsieh and Chen, Xu came in relief of starter Wang Nan, but after walking the first Chen and giving up the grand slam to the second Chen two batters later, Xu was a relief to no one but the Taiwanese. Taipei added to its lead in the sixth, scoring on the second of Yung-Chi Chen's doubles, and Chen came around on a throwing error by China pitcher Bu Tao. Taipei poured on the pain in the eighth, rallying for another four runs to go up 11-2, sitting on the cusp of what would have been China's second mercy-rule loss in the Classic. Taipei turned its lead up another notch in the ninth, but the mercy-rule lead was no good because China had to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Even so, the Chinese plated a run after a passed ball and wild pitch brought pinch-hitter Li Lei, who doubled, around to score. Taipei's Wei-Lun Pan was strong for four innings, striking out five Chinese and giving up two hits in picking up Chinese Taipei's lone World Baseball Classic win. Taipei's Hu was 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored. Chien-Ming Chang and Feng-Ming Chen also had multiple hits. Taipei's plate numbers Sunday were strong as the team racked up 15 hits to go with its 12 runs, but Lin said his team knew that improvements for the next World Baseball Classic would have to begin at the plate. Taipei went scoreless against Korea on Friday and just three runs in its mercy-rule loss to Japan on Saturday. "In terms of batting, we had problems," Lin said. "We should be more powerful. We faced good pitchers, and our batters couldn't handle it, especially when they saw breaking balls. "We will try hard to have our batters ready for the challenge next time." Lin said that the World Baseball Classic could stand to benefit from a few changes, beginning with tweaking the rule about pitch counts, but overall, he said the Classic was good for baseball. "If we didn't have the (pitching) regulation, maybe some of the games would have been different and maybe we would have won," Lin said. "Obviously it affected our pitchers, but it was something every manager had to think about. Maybe they will learn from this and it will improve the whole tournament."
Stephen Ellsesser is a reporter for The Japan Times and a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.