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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Shaky Korea lose WBC opening game 8-7 to Australia

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Korea’s Kang Baek-ho is tagged out as he steps off the bag after hitting a double at the bottom of the seventh inning of a World Baseball Classic Pool B game against Australia at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Korea’s World Baseball Classic campaign got off to an inauspicious start on Thursday, giving up three home runs and making some amateur base running mistakes in a humiliating 8-7 loss to Australia.

There were four home runs in the back-and-forth Pool B game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, with Tim Kennelly, Robbie Glendinning and Robbie Perkins clearing the wall for Australia and Yang Eui-ji going deep for Korea.

But perhaps more memorable than the big knocks was the moment when Kang Baek-ho, appearing for the first time in the game as a pinch hitter at the bottom of the seventh with Korea down 5-4, laced a tidy double into the center, only to inexplicably step off the bag while celebrating.

That mistake, more little league than rookie error, will go down for many Korea fans as the deciding point in the game, as Yang Eui-ji’s follow-up single had the potential to bring Kang home.

Korea started the game well. Ko Young-pyo retired the side on four pitched in the first inning, although there was lots of loud contact throughout the opening few frames. Ko quickly started to come undone, beaning players to open the second and fourth innings and giving up a few singles before a sacrifice fly eventually let Australia pull ahead at the top of the fourth.

Korea’s Yang Eui-ji hits a three-run home run against Australia during a Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo on Thursday. [YONHAP]
At bat Korea were shaky from the off, shut out completely across the first four innings until Park Kun-woo finally hit a single in the fifth. By that point Korea was already down 2-0 — the sac fly in the fourth and Kennelly’s solo homer at the top of the fifth — but Kim Hyun-soo had already been walked, allowing Yang to step up and flip the lead with a three-run homer.

Korea extended that lead in the sixth with a Park Byung-ho RBI double, only to fall back behind again at the top of the seventh when a sac bunt and a two-run Glendinning homer turned the tables to put Australia back up 5-4.

Kang’s mistake came at the bottom of the seventh and Australia were quick to capitalize, combining a single, a double and a homer to jump ahead 8-4 with two innings still to be played.

Robert Perkins of Australia hits a three-run home rung off Korean pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong during a Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo on Thursday. [AP/YONHAP]
Korea’s shot at redemption in the eighth owes much more to Australia’s mistakes on the mound to Korea’s prowess at the plate. The Australian pitchers gave up a total of five walks and a hit by pitch throughout the course of the inning as Korea was able to get three runners across the plate — one on a bases loaded walk, one on a Kim Hyun-soo sacrifice fly and one as Oh Ji-hwan grounded into a force out with a runner on third.

Down by one at the bottom of the ninth, Korea’s chance at saving things came when Tommy Edman kicked things off with a single, the first and only hit from either of Korea’s major leaguers. Kim Ha-seong and Lee Jung-hoo, considered the top prospect on the Korean squad, both flew out, leaving Edman to run himself and Korea out of the game as he tried to steal second.

Australian players celebrate after beating Korea in a Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Pitching was clearly a serious issue, with both Ko and So Hyeong-jun slapped with two earned runs each. Worse still was Yang Hyeon-jong, a former major leaguer in his own right, who saw three batters, gave up three hits and three runs in zero innings pitched.

Kim Won-jung was slapped with the other earned run in what was an afternoon to forget for most of the Korean bullpen, with the exceptions of Won Tae-in and closer Lee Yong-chan who both pitched over an inning without giving up a single hit.

Korean players leave the field after losing 8-7 to Australia in a Pool B game at the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Korea have very little time to brush themselves down and shake off the tough loss. They face group favorites Japan at 7 p.m. on Friday.

BY JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]

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