World Baseball Classic
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Korea edges rival Japan, wins Pool A

Kim's RBI single in the fourth holds up as lone run of contest

TOKYO -- Team Korea came back from a devastating 14-2 loss to Japan on Saturday to turn the tables and win the final game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic Asia Round, Pool A, 1-0, in a pitchers' battle at Tokyo Dome on Monday night.

Korea shocked the Japanese home crowd and finished the Asia Round with a 3-1 record, having defeated Chinese Taipei and China and splitting two games with Japan to claim the title. Japan, the runner-up, was 2-1, with victories over China and Korea.

Both teams now move on to Round 2 in San Diego, which begins on March 15.

Korean starting pitcher Jung Keun Bong was highly effective, allowing only three hits over 5 1/3 innings -- a pair of singles by Kenji Johjima and one by Hiroyuki Nakajima. Bong struck out two and did not walk a batter in using 69 pitches, one under the maximum 70 allowed by World Baseball Classic rules.

Japan starter Hisashi Iwakuma retired the first nine batters he faced but got himself into a jam in the top of the fourth inning. After walking leadoff man Jong Wook Lee, Iwakuma gave up a single to Keun Woo Jeong before Tae Kyun Kim singled home Lee for the 1-0 lead.

Iwakuma left the game in the top of the sixth, having also thrown 69 pitches over 5 1/3 innings, giving up the one run and two hits. He struck out five and walked three.

Korea missed a golden opportunity in the top of the seventh with runners on second and third and no outs. But Japan turned an unusual 6-2-5 double play, preventing Korea from scoring.

Closer Chang Yong Lim, who plays for Japan's Yakult Swallows, worked the last 1 2/3 innings to pick up a save.

"I am very happy about this," Korean manager In Sik Kim said afterward. "This is a huge win for us, and we look forward to going to America and winning there."

Kim credited his team's pitching as the key to victory on Monday.

"Today, everyone can recognize the importance of pitching," he said. "Baseball is 95-percent pitching. Today our starter, closer and middle relievers all did so great."

About selecting Bong as his starter, Kim said, "Bong told me two days ago he wanted to pitch against Japan, and I liked his attitude, so I decided to give him the ball."

A disappointed Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said, "A shutout loss after scoring 14 runs -- that's baseball. Today was a pitchers' game, and our pitchers did a good job. We lost, but I am proud of them, and we will head for the U.S. with that pride.

"Korea and Japan will go to the next round and, together, we will be showing the world how good Asian baseball is."

The highly anticipated rematch of Saturday night's game had an advance sale of more than 40,000 tickets, and organizers announced a sellout at 7:47 p.m., a little more than an hour after the contest began. The announced crowd was 42,879.

Both teams left after the game for workouts in Arizona, and will join the winner and runner-up of Pool B (consisting of Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa) to form Pool 1 and play at Petco Park in San Diego.

Wayne Graczyk is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.