Choi blast carries Korea to win over US
By Steve Keating - March 14, 2006
ANAHEIM (Reuters) - Choi Hee-seop had a three-run homer as South Korea humbled the United States 7-3 on Monday to maintain their unbeaten run at the World Baseball Classic and leave America's title hopes in jeopardy.
The U.S. slipped to 1-1 with the loss, leaving the tournament favorites with a possible must-win game against Mexico in their remaining second round match on Thursday. The win moves the Koreans top of the group standings with a mark of 2-0 and improves them to 5-0 for the tournament, a record built on dazzling defense, quality pitching and timely hitting.
"Something happened today that no one could have believed," said South Korean manager Kim In-sik. "Not just that it was the U.S. team but it was the best of all the best Major League players and it's very difficult to believe what happened.
"But this is baseball and you never know what might happen."
Frustrated American fans vented their frustration, showering the Major League all-stars and future Hall of Famers with boos and jeers throughout the contest and again when they left the field. Twice in the first four innings the U.S. loaded the bases but failed to score a run, Jason Varitek and then Vernon Wells both striking out to end the threats leaving a total of 11 baserunners stranded.
For the second consecutive start Dontrelle Willis, who led the major leagues in wins last season with 22, struggled with his control as South Korea jumped out to a 2-0 first inning lead. Willis, who gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings in the U.S. loss to Canada, made another quick exit on Monday after yielding three runs on four hits in just three innings of work.
The Florida Marlins lefthander left the U.S. in an early hole after Lee Seung-yeop opened the scoring with a first inning solo home run and Lee Bum-ho followed with an RBI single to put Korea up 2-0. The homer was a tournament leading fifth for Lee, South Korea's single-season home run record holder.
"The bottom line is, I'm not playing good baseball," said Willis. "I'm still happy to be here, I just hope we can advance so I get one more start." The U.S. briefly displayed some power of their own in the third, Ken Griffey Jr. launching a two-out solo home run. But Korea restored their two-run cushion in the bottom half of the inning when Lee Bum-ho scored Lee Seung-yeop on a fielder's choice.
Korea put the contest out of reach in the fourth inning, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Choi delivering the decisive blow with a towering three run homer off Dan Wheeler that just squeezed just inside the right field foul pole. "We are ecstatic. All of our team members are motivated. We feel we don't have any teams we should be afraid of," said Choi.
The top two teams from each of the second round groups advance to the semi-finals, which are scheduled to start on Saturday in San Diego.
WBC means more to some nations than others
By Tim Dahlberg, AP Sports Columnist - March 14, 2006
The worst thing about the World Baseball Classic -- besides the incomprehensible tiebreaker system -- has always been its timing. Baseball simply isn't supposed to mean this much in March.
Actually, it doesn't seem to mean that much to the U.S. team, which sleepwalked its way through a loss Monday night to South Korea and now must rely on Roger Clemens and some luck to stave off elimination. And it still doesn't mean that much to most Americans, if the crowds in Anaheim the last few nights were any indication. The Angels draw more for exhibition games against the Dodgers than the best of the United States did for games against Japan and South Korea.
But in places where they might root for the Yankees and not the Yanks, this is the Olympics on steroids. There, baseball's first real stab at an international series has taken on October-like proportions. Don't think Fidel isn't tuning in somewhere in Havana? Sure he was when his team pulled a Barry Bonds and refused to talk to the media after their loss to the Dominican Republic on Monday when anti-Castro protesters scuffled in the stands. And how about Japan, where the outrage over a reversed call that probably cost them the game against the United States on Sunday is so great that the prime minister even felt the need to get involved. "It clearly looked like we were going to win," Junichiro Koizumi said. "It's a shame to lose on such a strange call."
While the Japanese try to figure out a new definition for the word "homer" in their dictionary, other countries are showing America that, while baseball may be its national pastime, it doesn't own the game anymore.
They're ecstatic in Puerto Rico, where the games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium have been the most festive of all, and where the home team plays Cuba on Wednesday with the winner advancing to the semis. The Dominican Republic may be mired in poverty, but the nation will have plenty to celebrate if its talented team makes it to San Diego by beating Venezuela. If a team of Dominican superstars playing Puerto Rico's best before a noisy, flag-waving crowd in San Juan doesn't do it for you, then you're one of those fans who goes to Milwaukee Brewers games to cheer for the sausage races.
And what about South Korea? Wasn't this just a team with a couple of marginal major league pitchers in Chan Ho Park and Byung-Hyun Kim and a first baseman even the Dodgers didn't see as an everyday player? That same team is now the only undefeated squad and on the verge of making the semifinals, thanks to a surprisingly easy 7-3 win Monday night over a U.S. team that has played so far like it is still in the first week of spring training.
They may not be dancing in the streets in Seoul, but judging from South Korean manager In-Sik Kim's reaction, his countrymen have to be breaking out some celebratory kimchee after beating the United States at its own game. "Something happened today which nobody could believe," Kim said. "This is a collection of all the best of the major league players. It's very difficult to believe what happened."
Believe it because the United States has now lost to both Canada and South Korea, teams you wouldn't expect guys with names on their jerseys like Jeter, A-Rod and Griffey to lose to. They should have lost to Japan too, but for a call reversal so rare some players said they had never seen it happen before. It did in the eighth inning, and cost Japan the go-ahead run when plate umpire Bob Davidson overruled the second base umpire and called the runner out for leaving third base too early on a sacrifice fly. That drew reactions from both Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh and fellow slugger Bonds.
"It's just unimaginable that this could have happened, or this did happen, in the U.S. where baseball is very famous and popular," Oh said through a translator. "Dude, that guy tagged up," Bonds said through his own translator.
There was no such controversy in the game against South Korea, which was decided early by a three-run homer by Hee-Seop Choi's in the fourth inning that put the Koreans up 6-1. Dontrelle Willis got rocked, the American bats were largely silent, and suddenly this whole world baseball thing didn't look so good anymore. If the Americans don't win -- and they may have to win big -- against Mexico on Thursday, George Steinbrenner will get his wish and get the left side of his infield back to Florida early.
Just how that works out may be best left to the brains at Cal Tech, who may be the only ones who can figure out a tiebreaker system that, if everything else fails, comes down to picking the short straw. Take away the tiebreaker, though, and baseball and its union have done nearly everything right in their effort to promote baseball worldwide. They didn't exactly do it for altruistic reasons, because a successful tournament helps fill their coffers with money from merchandise and television rights, but give them credit for making it work.
The timing isn't ideal, of course, but options are limited. And when it returns in three years, maybe American players might have a better idea how to get prepared early enough for it. Meanwhile, baseball in March has never meant so much. And it's never been so much fun.
Edit: I've already been asked why I hate the US and been called a communist. I don't hate the US; I'm just tired of them winning everything or acting like they deserve to, and I am not a communist (do we even have those anymore?). I'm both a US and a Canadian national, and would vote NDP if I could (I guess I tend towards socialism, at least as far as medicine is concerned). I almost never root for the US in anything international; it's usually either Canada, Finland, Korea or some other underdog country. I also rarely watch the Olympics if they're hosted in the US; about 25% of the Olympic Games in my lifetime have been in the US, and I'd rather see other countries host them.
So yeah. Go Korea!