Korea staring down familiar foes

Round 2 opens vs. Mexico Sunday, with rival Japan waiting

Shortstop Jeong Choi throws during Team Korea's workout in San Diego on Saturday. (KC Alfred/AP)

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SAN DIEGO -- Three years ago, Korea was in the Final Four of the inaugural World Baseball Classic and lost to Japan in a semifinal game at PETCO Park. It was one and out for the Koreans and their only loss in the tournament.

This year, the rules are a tad different.

Top seeds cross over in the opening games of the second round, meaning Korea faces Mexico in the night cap of Sunday's day-night doubleheader with Japan in a rematch in the day game against Cuba, the team they defeated to win it all here three years ago.

Right-hander Suk Min Yoon will start for the Koreans against Mets' left-hander Oliver Perez.

"Mexico has a very strong team," said In Sik Kim, the Korean manager who also guided his team to a tournament best, 6-1, record in 2006. "As for us, we have to adjust to the time change. Today, only two of us complained about [fatigue], but the rest are getting back into normal condition."

The Koreans have already played the Japanese twice in the Asian bracket, splitting the two games. They were 3-1 in the first round, outscoring their opponents, 26-14. All 14 runs against them came in a 14-2 loss to the Japanese. In their other three games, all wins, the Koreans didn't allow a run.

Thus, they come into Sunday night's action 9-2 in World Baseball Classic play and having also won their first Olympic baseball gold medal by defeating Cuba last summer in Beijing.

Korea defeated Mexico, 2-1, in a second-round game in 2006 at Angels Stadium.

The Koreans are known for their execution, which works well in a big ballpark like PETCO Park, which has a tendency to negate power-hitting clubs.

"I don't think you're going to see a Korean team miss a bunt, if they're trying to bunt," said Mexico first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, playing the second round in the home of the Padres, his Major League club. "I think those are the things that make them tough opponents. They make their pitches. They execute."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.