- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Olympic champion South Korea is in contention for another big international championship.

South Korea qualified for the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic by beating defending WBC champion Japan and its slumping star, Ichiro Suzuki, 4-1 on Tuesday night. Japan held the South Koreans to only four singles but also issued seven walks, including four in the eighth inning.

Backed by a boisterous cheering section at Petco Park and led by left-hander Bong Jung-keun, the South Koreans joined Venezuela and the United States in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.

The final semifinal spot will go to the winner of Wednesday night’s game between Japan and Cuba. Japan beat Cuba 6-0 on Sunday behind Daisuke Matsuzaka’s six brilliant innings, as well as in the championship game of the inaugural WBC in 2006 at Petco Park.

As they were in the Olympics, when they stunned mighty Cuba to win the gold medal and finish undefeated, the South Koreans have been far from flashy but simply steady.

They did show some emotion, too. Pumped up after helping turn a double play to end the fourth inning, second baseman Jeong Keun-woo ran off the diamond and then stopped just beyond the first-base line to tap gloves with his teammates.

South Korea jumped on Yu Darvish (1-1) to take a 3-0 lead in the first inning, with the first three batters reaching base and scoring. The first run scored on an error by shortstop Yasuyuki Kataoka before Lee Jin-young singled in two runs.

The South Koreans had only one hit after the first inning. Lee Bum-ho drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth.

Bong (2-0) held Japan hitless until the fourth inning and allowed only three singles and one run in 5 1-3 innings. He walked three and struck out one. Lim Chang-yong got the last two outs for the save.

Darvish allowed two earned runs and four hits in five innings. He struck out seven and walked one.

Suzuki drove in Japan’s only run on a grounder in the fifth. The Seattle Mariners’ star went 0-for-4 and is hitting just .174 (4-for-23) in five games.

Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima of the Mariners was ejected by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt after taking a called third strike in the seventh.

The game drew an announced crowd of 15,332 at the 42,000-seat home of the San Diego Padres.

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