Korea looks to wrap up Pool 1
Familiar foe Japan awaits in seeding game for Classic semifinals
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
On Thursday, Korea will take on Japan to determine the top seed from Pool 1 for the semifinals this weekend in Los Angeles. The United States and Venezuela have already qualified for the next round from Pool 2.
Korea is 5-1 in World Baseball Classic play this year and 2-1 against Japan. Overall, Korea is 11-2 in Classic play dating to 2006.
"The most important thing is we became one of the four finalists," Korea manager In Sik Kim said. "I think Japan is at a higher level than us [in baseball], but that doesn't mean you always win. Sometimes they lose."
Wonsam Jang will take the mound for Korea. The left-handed pitcher went 12-8 with a 2.85 ERA for Woori Heroes in Korea last season. He is 0-0 with a 7.71 ERA in 2 1/3 World Baseball Classic innings this year.
Japan will counter with left-hander Tetsuya Utsumi, who is making his first tournament appearance.
Utsumi will have his work cut out for him. Tae Kyun Kim leads Korea's hitters with nine RBIs and a .421 batting average in this year's tournament. He has drawn five walks and has a .789 slugging percentage. Dae Ho Lee and Jin Young Lee are each hitting .364 and overall, seven Korean hitters have a batting average higher than .300.
"I think we are at the same level, and I think they are our rival," Lee said. "That's our mind-set."
On Tuesday, Korean starter Jung Keun Bong outpitched Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish and limited the Japanese offense to one run on three hits in his 5 1/3 innings pitched in the 4-1 victory.
"As always, the important thing for the Korean team is concentrating," outfielder Yong-Kyu Lee said. "Every player is happy about this [win], but this is not the end of it. There are more games left for us to play, and we will keep on doing our best."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.