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(WBC) S. Korea faces must-win situation against Australia

All Headlines 12:09 March 03, 2013

By Yoo Jee-ho

TAICHUNG, Taiwan, March 3 (Yonhap) -- Once considered the heavy favorite, South Korea now faces an unexpected do-or-die match against Australia in the ongoing World Baseball Classic (WBC) just to make it out of the first round.

South Korea's tournament hangs in the balance following the shocking, 5-0 shutout defeat against the upstart Netherlands on Saturday. The result stunned many, not the least of whom was manager Ryu Joong-il, who called it one of the worst games ever for the national team.

He was forced to apologize for the loss, but a mere apology may not suffice if South Korea loses to Australia in their second Pool B match at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

South Korea now must win its two remaining games, first against Australia and then Taiwan on Tuesday. Even after two more victories, South Korea may still have to beat a tiebreaker just to get out of the first round alive.

It's an unforeseen turn of events for a team that had vowed to bring home the coveted WBC trophy after coming in at third place in 2006, the first tournament, and at second place three years later.

The offense has to wake up for South Korea. The lineup, on paper, appeared to have a solid balance of speed, contact and power, but none of it was on display against the Dutch, who held the South Koreans to just four singles.

Even in those few situations when South Korea put runners on base, the hitters that followed couldn't keep the rally going. The most devastating miss came in the seventh inning, when catcher Kang Min-ho and pinch hitter Lee Seung-yeop, both known for their power, struck out and popped out, respectively, when the runners were on corners with one out.

Manager Ryu, who had been a premier defensive shortstop during his playing days in the 1980s, had stressed the importance of airtight defense in tournament play. He named some of the South Korean league's best defensive players to this team, but after committing four fielding errors against the Dutch, the team may need to go through Ryu's infamously tough fungo sessions again.

Australia is also in trouble, after falling to Taiwan 4-1 in the opening Pool B match Saturday. Starter Chris Oxspring, a one-time Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) pitcher, was ineffective against aggressive Taiwanese batters who often swung at first pitches.

Australia has eight players with Major League Baseball experience, six more than South Korea. Aside from Oxspring, who pitched for the San Diego Padres in 2005, Australia also has former Seattle Mariners reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith, ex-Minnesota Twins infielder Luke Hughes and one-time Detroit Tigers reliever Brad Thomas, among others. Thomas has also pitched in the KBO.

Currently, 11 members of the Australian WBC team are under contract with big league teams, compared to none for South Korea.

Both South Korea and Australia play their third and final first round games on Tuesday. It will force their coaches to juggle their pitching rotation and to make sure key pitchers will be available for the finale.

Pitchers are only permitted to throw 65 pitches a game in the first round. Those who throw more than 50 must sit out for four days, and if the pitch count exceeds 30, the pitcher must rest for one day.

South Korea used seven pitchers against the Netherlands. Aside from the starter Yoon Suk-min, none of the six pitchers that followed threw more than 30.

For Australia, seven pitchers took the mound against Taiwan. Starter Oxspring was the only one to go over 40 pitches, which means he, too, could be available against South Korea if necessary.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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