Tokyo Dome was high…South Korea ‘kneels’ to Japan
South Korea lost to Japan in the final of the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023. The Koreans were evenly matched against the Japanese, but came from behind in the final innings. The game was a reminder of the Japanese barrier, but also of the bright future of Korean baseball.
The South Korean baseball team, led by Ryu Jung-il, lost 3-4 in 10 extra innings against Japan in the final game of the APBC tournament at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on Sept. 19. The Koreans, who finished runners-up in the 2017 edition of the tournament after losing 0-7 to the Japanese in the final, were stymied by the Japanese for the second time in six years.
The Koreans have also lost all eight meetings between the two professional teams since a 4-3 win in the 2015 WBSC Premier12 semifinals.
South Korea also lost 1-2 to Japan in the second game of the tournament’s qualifier on April 17. At the time, the gap between the two teams was larger than the visible “one point. South Korea was completely shut out by Japan’s left-handed starter Chihiro Sumida. Sumida dominated the Korean bats with seven shutout innings. One of the redeeming features of the loss was that Korean pitchers, including left-hander Lee Yi-ri (two runs in six innings), pitched competitively without being intimidated by the Japanese bats.
The Korean pitching staff also stood out in the final game. Kwak Bin (24, Dusan) threw 88 pitches in front of a one-sided home crowd of more than 40,000, allowing five hits (one home run), three walks, six strikeouts and one run.
After a lethargic start to the tournament against Japan, South Korea’s bats were much improved in the final. In the top of the third inning, Korea’s leadoff hitter Kim Hye-sung drew a walk to load the bases. They got a little lucky in the process. The next batter, Kim Do-young, laid down a bunt, but first baseman Maki Shugo made a throwing error, putting runners on 1-2. After Yoon Dong-hee struck out to load the bases, Noh Si-hwan, the reigning Korean Baseball Organization’s “Home Run King,” hit Imai’s first-pitch slider right down the middle of the plate. It was a two-run double that brought both runners home. Imai eventually left the mound for the final time in the fourth inning.
With a 2-0 lead, the fifth inning was a disappointment. Kwak Bin gave up a solo home run in the second inning after throwing a slow curveball that fell just short to the No. 4 hitter, Maki Shugo. The South Korean lead was short-lived. In the sixth inning with a 2-1 lead, Choi Seung-yong, who took over the mound, gave up a leadoff double to Jusei Mannami and then a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly by the next batter to tie the game. From the sixth inning onward, the bullpens of both teams went toe-to-toe and did not allow any more runs.
The game was eventually decided in extra innings. South Korea scored the winning run in the top of the 10th inning with runners on first and second. Kim Do-young, the leadoff hitter, singled, but Yoon Dong-hee followed with an RBI single. But Korea would not have the last laugh.
In the bottom of the 10th, with Korea leading 3-2, Japan put runners on first and second with a leadoff sacrifice bunt. Korea’s closer Jung Hae-young walked Maki, the No. 4 hitter, on purpose. Shogo Sakakura tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning, and Korea walked the next batter, Mannami, again, to force in Makoto Kadoki, but she was unable to get a hit to end the tournament. In the third-place game at the Tokyo Dome earlier the same day, Chinese Taipei defeated Australia 4-3.