With excitement befitting of the stakes at hand, Korea and Chinese Taipei battled for the right to advance to the second round of the World Baseball Classic. Fourth-ranked Korea used a dramatic eighth inning to earn a 3-2 victory, but it was the host, Taiwan, who advanced via tiebreaker rules. It is fifth-rated Chinese Taipei’s first-ever second round appearance, while Korea, which has the most wins in WBC history, had never failed to advance.
Chinese Taipei, Korea, and the Netherlands all finished 2-1 in the pool, so a tiebreaker was necessary to determine the two teams that would move on to Tokyo. Using a complicated formula involving run differential, it was determined that Taiwan was more deserving to join Cuba, Japan, and the Dutch in the second round.
Both teams threatened throughout the game, which featured only a single 1-2-3 inning per side. Each manager used his game liberally as the tension mounted throughout the game.
Chinese Taipei was the first to take advantage of their runners on base. Dai-Kang Yang led off the third with an infield single, though Korean starter Won-Jun Chang got the next two batters, including a bunting Che-Hsuan Lin, who plays for the Houston Astros. But with two outs, Chih-Sheng Lin, Taiwan’s cleanup hitter, stroked a single to centre to plate Yang. Szu-Chih Chou followed with a single, but Chang struck out Yung-Chi Chen, hero of the 2006 WBC.
The hosts added another run an inning later. Yen-Wen Kuo ripped a two-out double into the right field corner. After Kyung-Eun Noh relieved, Yang stroked a single over the mound to plate Kuo and give Chinese Taipei a 2-0 advantage.
After loading the sacks and failing to score in the fourth, Korea came very close to finally putting a run on the scoreboard in the fifth. Keun-Woo Jeong reached on a fielding error with one out and, two batters later, cleanup hitter Dae-Ho Lee, who hit .455 for the tournament, stepped up to the plate.
Lee launched a ball into the alley in right centre and Jeong raced around the bases, but Lin sent a good throw in from centre that was cut off by Kuo, who fired the ball to catcher Chih-Kang Kao as Jeong reached the plate. Kao planted himself firmly over the plate as he caught the ball, and Jeong barrelled into him.
Taiwan’s catcher held steady and Jeong was out, failing to even touch the plate. It was the second time Jeong was cut down on the basepaths, as in the first inning he tried to advance to third after stealing second with a wild throw and was out 8-5.
Korea’s second reliever, Hee-Soo Park, continued where he had left off in the fifth and retired Taiwan 1-2-3 to give Korea a quick chance to threaten again. Ching-Lung Lo entered for Chinese Taipei, though, and got two strikeouts to continue the shutout for Taiwan.
Neither team got a safety in the seventh and Taiwan got nothing out of a hit in the eighth. In the bottom of the frame, Taiwan’s manager, Chang-Heng Hsieh, sent in setup man Hong-Chih Kuo to get the ball to his closer.
After failing to create much momentum on offence throughout the game despite 10 baserunners, Korea finally got firing on all cylinders. Kuo, a seven-year MLB veteran, gave up a ground rule double to Seung-Yeop Lee to lead off the frame. It was his third double in as many games. Lee moved to third on a passed ball and, with no outs, the Blue Bogy finally had a rally going.
Dae-Ho Lee drove his man home with a safety to left, but Kuo buckled down and got the next two outs. It appeared that the southpaw would get out of the inning with the 2-1 lead intact, but Jung-Ho Kang took Kuo deep to left field, with the four-bagger landing well over the wall.
Kuo struck out the final batter to ensure that Korea would not advance in spite of the win. Chinese Taipei’s arch-rivals had to win by at least five runs to advance, so the home run gave Korea nothing but a bit of pride after Seung-Hwan Oh got the last three outs for the save.
Taiwan out-hit the blue-and-white 9-8, but left nine runners on base. They were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Yang was the only hitter from Chinese Taipei with two hits and only Chou also reached base twice.
Korea also stranded nine baserunners, though they had only three reach scoring position. Kang and Dae-Ho Lee both recorded a brace of hits. Jeong walked twice and had Korea’s only stolen base.
Four hurlers toed the rubber for the loser. Yao-Hsun Yang started and threw 2 2/3 frames, working around three baserunners. He struck out one. Ching-Ming Wang hurled 2 1/3 innings, going unscathed despite three hits and a walk with no strikeouts. Lo had the strongest outing, striking out two in two frames. Kuo was the final pitcher.
Korea’s manager Joong-Il Ryu went to the ‘pen more liberally, sending six pitchers to the mound. Chang tossed 3 2/3, allowing six of Taiwan’s nine hits and both of their runs. He struck out a pair. Won-Sam Jang earned the victory in relief, throwing a scoreless eighth. Oh whiffed two in a perfect ninth.
Korea qualifies for the 2017 Classic, but will drop from the No. 4 position in the world rankings. Korea is now 14-5 in WBC history. By virtue of their defeat of the Netherlands, Taiwan is the Pool B winner and will face No. 3 Japan, who finished second in Pool A. After going 1-4 in the two previous Classics, Chinese Taipei is 5-1 in all rounds of the 2013 edition.
The two sides will face off in the Tokyo Dome on Mar. 8 at 10 a.m. GMT. Chinese Taipei will be the home team. Stay tuned for news, reviews, and analysis of this year’s WBC.