Sunday, March 22, 2009

South Koreans rout Venezuela to reach Classic final

South Korea's finest players showed they have the talent to humble US Major League Baseball superstars, overwhelming Venezuela 10-2 to reach the final of the World Baseball Classic.
The reigning Olympic champions booked a berth in Monday's final at Dodger Stadium against the winner of Sunday's semi-final between defending Classic champion Japan, South Korea's arch rivals, and the United States.
Choo Shin-Soo, South Korea's only major leaguer, and Kim Tae-Kyun each blasted home runs while 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Yoon Suk-Min baffled a South American major league all-star squad that led the Classic in hitting.
"This was an unforgettable game," Choo said.

"In terms of skill level, I think there is no difference between Koreans and major leaguers. I've learned a lot from all the Korean players. I hope Koreans will advance to the major leagues in great numbers in the future.

"There's a major difference in style. Major leaguers are always aggressive. Korea is more patient in batting. We have better fundemental skills in terms of meticulousness and how we follow up with each other."

The Koreans, ousted in a semi-final by Japan in the inaugural 2006 Classic, can secure their global supremacy in the only tournament featuring US stars, a key for bragging rights with the sport now off the Olympic calendar.

"I had better be impressed," Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "It's a remarkable performance to say the least."

Choo, who plays for the Cleveland Indians, smashed a three-run blow in a five-run first inning while Kim added a two-run homer, his third round-tripper of the tournament, in the second.

"This was very painful," Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo said. "In the first inning the Koreans showed they were here to win. They got a five-run lead and that was basically the game."

Both homers came off Venezuelan starter Carlos Silva, a Seattle Mariners right-hander who surrendered seven runs on six hits in only 1 1/3 innings.

"Choo knew about the pitcher and told us about him," Kim said. "We were able to anticipate the pitches. I knew a lot of sinkers would be thrown and that was helpful."

Yoon, an Olympic hero who led the Korean league with a 2.33 earned-run average last year, scattered seven hits and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings while four Korean relief pitchers blanked Venezuela the rest of the way.

"I felt great. I was proud and confident," Yoon said. "I was not nervous. They were major league batters but I didn't know who they were so I wasn't nervous."

Eight of nine Korean starters reached base in the first two innings off the Venezuelan major league "Dream Team", sending a clear message that South Korea's lack of major leaguers does not mean they lack world-class talent.

Sojo, a five-time World Series champion, expects to see more Korean major leaguers.

"There will be from now on. Trust me," Sojo said. "The way they play is exceptional. This kid, the way he pitched, it opened a lot of eyes. I don't know why there aren't more Koreans in the big leagues but there will be."

Venezuelan fielders made five errors, four in the first four innings, to aid the Korean cause.

Lee Yong-Kyu opened the game with a walk and reached second when Jeong Keun-Woo hit a fly ball to right field that was dropped by Venezuela's Bobby Abreu and muffed by shortstop Marco Scutaro when trying to force out Lee at second.

"I gloved the ball too early. My throw to Scutaro was too short," Abreu said. "That play cost us the whole rally. That out would have meant a lot."

Kim Hyun-Soo slapped a single into left field to score Lee and Kim Tae-Hyun lifted a single over second base to load the bases before Lee Dae-Ho plated Jeong with a ground out to Silva. That set the stage for Choo's homer.

Kim Tae-Kyun made it 7-0 on a homer just inside the left-field pole, taking the Classic lead at batting in runs on 11. He walked from the dugout and tipped his cap to Korea's loud fans among a crowd of 43,378.

"For a moment I felt like we were in Korea," Sojo said.

Yoon was in command from there.

"He's an excellent pitcher. He dominated the game," Abreu said. "He really knows how to switch his pitches. He's really strong, especially his changeup. He has good control."

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