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(WBC) S. Korea undone by cold bat, sloppy defense in WBC opener

All Headlines 09:38 March 03, 2013

By Yoo Jee-ho

TAICHUNG, Taiwan, March 3 (Yonhap) -- It was an unseasonably chilly day on Saturday here in Taiwan, as South Korea faced the Netherlands for their first Pool B match of the World Baseball Classic (WBC). It had rained about an hour before the game and with the wind blowing hard through the driving rain, many in the stands were bundled up in winter parkas and mufflers.

South Korea went on to lose the game 5-0, as the bats went cold and stayed that way the whole game.

The offensive struggles for South Korea had been well documented before the tournament even began. In six practice matches last month, South Korea scored just 13 runs and suffered a pair of 1-0 losses. Still, manager Ryu Joong-il and a number of players had vowed the team could quickly turn things around once the tournament began.

But in the first game that mattered, the players couldn't flick on the switch.

South Korea was held to just four hits by four Dutch pitchers, and starter Diegomar Markwell threw four shutout innings. Before the game, South Korean players said they had studied the opponent pitchers and hadn't found the Netherlands' staff particularly intimidating.

In the game, however, the Dutch pitchers may have been the ones who played without fear.

South Korea put a runner past second base only twice in the game and couldn't sustain any rally. Choi Jeong hit a two-out single in the third but was promptly picked off by Markwell. Kim Hyun-soo, who carried a .425 average in international competitions into this WBC, weakly grounded out to first in the fourth with runners on corners.

Choi hit a leadoff single in the sixth to start a rally, before Jeong Keun-woo killed what little momentum was left with a 5-4-3 double play.

South Korea's final scoring chance came in the seventh, again with runners on first and third, with one out. Kang Min-ho, a power hitting catcher, went down swinging, and pinch hitter Lee Seung-yeop, one of the team's premier sluggers, hit a pop out to second.

After the game, manager Ryu Joong-il pointed to this missed opportunity in the seventh as one of the reasons for the defeat,

The team's performance on defense was just as discouraging. Shortstop Kang Jung-ho and second baseman Jeong Keun-woo, both usually sure-handed fielders, each committed a throwing error in the first inning alone. Kang bounced his throw in the dirt, while Jeong's throw went wide and pulled first baseman Lee Dae-ho off the bag to his left.

Third baseman Choi Jeong, another strong defensive player, had an uncharacteristic fielding error in the bottom eighth, letting a routine grounder roll between his legs.

All in all, South Korea had four errors, equal to the team's hits, a disconcerting showing by a team long known for opportunistic offense and fundamentally-sound defense.

In stark contrast, the Netherlands pounded seven Korean pitches for 10 hits, including four doubles, and made no fielding errors.

South Korea has to right the ship in a hurry, or it may not even get past the opening round, let alone win its first WBC championship. Ryu, the manager, didn't mince words afterward, saying this was "one of the worst games" the team has played. He was forced to apologize to fans for the poor showing.

After this unexpected loss, South Korea may have to beat a complicated tiebreaker to advance to the second round.

The top two countries after round-robin play in the first round will stay alive in the tournament. If two teams are tied at the top, then the team that won the game played between the two nations will be awarded first place in the group.

But if three teams are tied, the math will be a bit more complicated. The tiebreaker in that case will be TQB, or the sum of runs scored divided by the number of offensive innings minus the number of runs allowed divided by the number of defensive innings. The team with the highest TQB will be declared the winner of the group. Only the scores from the games between the tied nations will count.

Simply put, the team that scores the most runs while giving up the fewest will have the edge in the tiebreaker.

It's quite possible that South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands could be tied with two wins and a loss each at the end of the first round. And after one game, South Korea has dug itself a big hole, since it gave up five runs while scoring none. Even Australia, considered the weakest link in the group, managed one run off Taiwan while allowing four runs.

In the past two WBCs, South Korea took on its archrival Japan a combined eight times. The two have split those eight contests, but Japan won the ones that mattered: the semifinal match in 2006 and the championship in 2009.

By the quirks of the draw, South Korea faced Japan five times in 2009. This year, the two nations can meet only up to three times, including in the championship final.

Many South Korean players have vowed revenge against Japan in the final this year. They may have allowed themselves to look too far ahead. Following their loss to the Dutch, the more pressing task at hand is to get out of the first round alive.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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