If you didn’t watch the game last night, you really missed out. Even though team USA left one game early, this last game was well worth watching. Jung Keun Bong started for Korea, and Japan had to be at least a little concerned. He had faced them twice in this WBC, and allowed only 1 ER in 11 IP. He was pretty strong in this one as well, working his way into and out of trouble, but only for 4 innings, allowing 1 run. Korea, on the other hand, couldn’t muster so much as a hit against Japan’s starter Iwakuma in the first 3 2/3 innings.
Finally in the 5th, Korea’s (and Cleveland’s) Shin Soo Choo hit a blast to CF, tying the game up at 1 a piece. Later in that inning, Young Min Ko singled on a liner to LF that Uchikawa almost caught. Instead, he slid, grabbed the one hopper, bounced up and fired an abolute laser in to second to get Ko. It was one of the best plays I have ever seen from an outfielder. An inning later, to add to the drama, Yong-Kyu Lee walked, and I’ve never seen a player do what he did. He faked a steal on EVERY pitch, running two or three steps before turning back. Eventually, Iwakama had him picked off, but hesitated on the throw and Lee slid back in safely. Finally, Iwakuma struck out the batter, Lee took off to steal and Mariner’s catcher Kenji Johjima threw him out stealing. Lee slid headfirst into second and BROKE HIS HELMET on Nakajima’s (the SS) leg. It cracked in the front and back, the bill shattered, and Lee was dazed. Fortunately he was able to stay in the game.
In the 7th, after an Ichiro bunt single to make it first and third, the slick fielding Nakajima singled home a runner and with no outs it looked like Japan might run away with it. But a fly out and a very impressive double play later, Korea was very much in the game. Japan led 2-1, and Korea went 3 up and 3 down in the bottom of the 7th, with starter Iwakuma still pitching brilliantly. Japan scored another run in the 8th, and it looked to be all over for Korea, with the way Japan has pitched. Korea scored in the 8th with a double, a ground out and a sac fly to make it 3-2 going in to the final frame. Ichiro hit a double off of reliever Chang Yong Lim in the top of the 9th, and after an intentional walk, Kang was able to strike out Ogasawara to end the top half of the inning.
Yu Darvish was brought in to close the game for Japan. He is the young ace of the staff, probably regarded as the second best pitcher behind Dice-K and he throws very hard. If he came to America would be considered a top free agent. Darvish struck out 2 and walked 2 of the first 4 batters, and with 2 on and 2 out, he let up a single to awesomely named third baseman Bum Ho Lee, and the game was tied. With men on first and second, Darvish was able to strike out a third batter of the inning to send it to extras.
In the top of the 10th, Korea’s Lim remained in the game and immediately surrendered a single. After a sac bunt and then another single, this time by Aki Iwamora, it was first and third with one out. Lim induced an infield popup, and now with two outs it looked as if Korea might get out of it. But Ichiro singled right back up the middle and 2 runs scored, making it 5-3. There was some drama in the bottom of the inning as Darvish walked the leadoff man brining the tying run to the plate. But he struck out two of the next three batters, with a flyout mixed in for good measure, and Japan won the game.
If you missed this game, it was really one of the best baseball games I have seen in a long time. The playoff atmosphere was great, and despite only knowing 1 player on Korea and a few on Japan, I found myself really getting in to the game. This finale, despite missing Team USA, should be good for the game, especially internationally. Congrats to Japan on their second championship, and I’m looking forward to the next WBC.