Korea shuts out Chinese Taipei in WBC opener

TOKYO -- Korea exorcized the demon that has haunted the baseball-mad nation for the past 2½ years, defeating Chinese Tapei 2-0 in the opening game of the first-ever World Baseball Classic on Friday at Tokyo Dome.

A procession of major-league pitchers held off bitter Asian rival Chinese Taipei to put Korea one step closer to advancing to the second round in Anaheim, Calif.

Jae Seo of the Los Angeles Dodgers worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings and Chan Ho Park of the San Diego Padres pitched the final three innings to complete the shutout.

Seo, who allowed two hits and two walks, got the win, while Park, who gave up a hit and a walk, picked up the save.

But things got tight in the ninth inning, reminding everyone of Korean baseball's greatest nightmare. A Korean defensive meltdown in November
2003 at Sapporo, Japan allowed Chinese Taipei to overturn a two-run lead in the ninth and virtually knock Korea out of qualifying for the Athens Olympics.

That defeat has weighed heavily on Korean pride for years, and Korea is the only Group A team with its full complement of major-league players.

Even though Chinese Taipei put itself in position to repeat history in the ninth with a leadoff double and a two-out single off Park, there was no let up. Instead, a brilliant play by shortstop Jin Man Park, a Sapporo veteran, put the Koreans in the win column.

Manager Kim In Suk, believes the major leaguers were the difference in Tokyo, as MLB had prevented them from participating in Sapporo.

"If we had our major leaguers, I think we would have won in Sapporo," Kim said. "Chinese Taipei has really improved since then. If we didn't have our major leaguers, it would have been very tough to win today.

"This game meant more than just one game."

Korea can now clinch a spot in Anaheim's quarterfinal Pool 1 with a win over Pool A weakling China on Saturday.

Sung-Heon Hong broke the ice in the fourth inning, putting Korea in front with an RBI double off starter En-Yu Lin, who was rapidly approaching his 65-pitch limit when Hong came to the plate. With two outs and a man on second, the Korean catcher grounded a pitch just inside the third-base line and into the corner to stake his club to the lead.

Lin, Chinese Professional Baseball's 2005 rookie of the year, took the loss. He had pitched out of trouble in each of the the first three innings but Hong's double, one of four hits by Korea, proved his undoing.

In the bottom of the fourth, Korean starter Seo was also approaching his pitch limit as well. Unlike his Chinese Taipei counterpart, manager Kim pulled the plug and went to side-armer Byung-Hyun Kim, who stranded the tying run at second base.

Korea captain Jong-Beom Lee, who played in Japan a decade ago, made it 2-0 in the fifth with an RBI double off lefty Ying-Chieh Lin, who will begin his Japanese career this season.

Byun-Hyun Kim pitched a 1-2-3 fifth before leaving with one out and a runner on second for lefty Dae-Sung Koo. Koo, who spent four years in Japan before joining the New York Mets, allowed Chinese Taipei to put the tying run on with one out, but escaped unscathed.

Chan Ho Park came in the seventh and whatever hopes Chinese Taipei had faded with six straight outs by the big right-hander, who struck out three in his three-inning stint.

"Of course we had another closer ready, but [before the ninth] I consulted with the pitching coaches and we felt Park could do the job,"
said the skipper. "And he did."

Because he remained under 50 pitches, Park will be available when Korea takes on Japan on Sunday.

"I didn't predict I'd pitch that long, but the pitching coach and the manager had faith in me."

Jim Allen covers baseball for The Daily Yomiuri in Japan.