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Korea leaves tournament as class acts

Final meeting, title go to Japan, but country fights until bitter end

LOS ANGELES -- The Koreans, second-to-none for most of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, will return home second to one team, the Japanese.

On Monday, Japan topped Korea, 5-3, in 10 innings to defend its Classic title in front of 54,846 at Dodger Stadium in the tournament's championship game. Japan also won the inaugural Classic in 2006. Korea finishes with a 6-3 record and as the tourney's first runner-up.

The title game was the fifth meeting between the two countries in this year's tournament and the eighth time the teams have met in two Classics. The two rivals have four wins apiece, but Japan has the upper hand, eliminating Korea from the semifinals in 2006 and in the final Monday.

Team Korea shined for nine innings, but Japanese star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki made sure there would be no Korean celebration in extra frames on this night. Tied at 3 with two outs in the 10th, Ichiro lined a 2-2 pitch from Korean reliever Chang Yong Lim up the middle to score two runs and push Japan ahead for the final margin of victory.

The final pitch to Ichiro was a mistake, Korea manager In-Sik Kim said. The strategy against Ichiro was to throw him pitches out of the strike zone and walk the All-Star as a last resort. There was a mix-up between catcher Min-ho Kang and the signs from the bench, Kim said.

"I don't know why the pitcher tried to pitch directly to Ichiro," Kim said. "I did not understand. I did not ask the pitcher why. In the end, it did not work for us."

Ichiro finished 4-for-6, and his game-winning hit came on the eighth pitch from Lim. Japan right-hander Yu Darvish pitched the final two innings for Japan to earn the victory.

"We did our best," Kim said. "Of course, it would have been better if we won, but I do not have a great deal of dissatisfaction."

The resilient Koreans rallied late. With one out and Japan ahead, 3-2, in the bottom of ninth, Darvish issued back-to-back walks to Korea left fielder Hyun-Soo Kim and first baseman Tae Kyun Kim. He recovered to strike out Korean right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, but third baseman Bum Ho Lee followed with an RBI single to left field to tie the game at 3.

Korea did not score again, but give the country credit.

Japan had runners on first and second with two outs against Korea starter Jung Keun Bong in each of the first two innings, but it was unable to score each time. In the top of the third inning, Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima scored Japan's first run on a single by first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara with one out for a 1-0 lead. Left fielder Seiichi Uchikawa followed with a single to load the bases, but the next hitter, designated hitter Kenta Kurihara, hit into a double play.

In the fifth, Nakajima walked and advance to third base on a single by center fielder Norichika Aoki. Korea replaced Bong with Hyun Wook Jong on the mound, and the move worked to perfection. Jong fanned Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima, then Ogasawara struck out swinging and Korean catcher Kyung Oan Park threw out Aoki trying to steal second base to complete the double play.

Jong retired the side in order in the sixth, but Korea would not be as fortunate in the seventh.

Japan third baseman Yasuyuki Kataoka led off with a single and stole second base. He advanced to third on a bunt single by Ichiro. Kataoka came home on a single by Nakajima to move ahead, 2-1. In the eighth inning, Uchikawa scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Akinori Iwamura to extend Japan's lead to 3-1.

But the Koreans refused to fold. In the bottom half of the eighth, Korea third baseman Lee led off with a double and moved to third on a ground ball by second baseman Young Min Ko. Lee charged home on a sacrifice to center field by Dae Ho Lee to cut Japan's lead to one run, 3-2.

Korean shortstop Ki Hyuk Park followed with a walk, and Japan manager Tatsumori Hara followed with the hook. Japan starter Hisashi Iwakuma was replaced by Toshiya Sugiuchi after 7 2/3 strong innings. He allowed two runs on four hits and struck out six Korean hitters.

In the fifth inning, Choo smashed a home run for Korea, his second in two games, to tie the game at 1.

"I am proud [Korea] fought and did their best," Bong said. "Korea did not give up to the very end, so our players, coach and our manager have no regrets about leaving anything on the field in this game."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.