- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Given a chance to beat South Korea in the 10th inning, Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki came through for Japan.

It didn’t have to be that way.

The eight-time AL All-Star lined a two-out, two-run single in the top of the 10th inning, and Japan beat reigning Olympic champion South Korea 5-3 Monday night to win its second straight World Baseball Classic title before a lively crowd of 54,846 at Dodger Stadium.

With runners at second and third, South Korea could have opted to take the bat out of Suzuki’s hands, but didn’t do so. Manager Kim In-sik acknowledged the mistake afterward.

“I don’t know why the pitcher tried to pitch directly to Ichiro,” Kim said through a translator. “I did not understand. In the end, it did not work out for us. The pitcher and the catcher did not communicate well in terms of their signs. And in the end, that led to the hit by (Suzuki). Of course I have a regret as to what happened.”

Suzuki said he wasn’t surprised South Korea pitched to him.

“There was (Hiroyuki) Nakajima (on deck), and he is a batter you wanted to avoid,” Suzuki said. “So there was a possibility for the bases to be loaded, and I knew they would want to fight against that, so I wasn’t at all surprised.”

The 35-year-old Suzuki is a .331 hitter in eight seasons with the Mariners after starring in Japan. He tied Lou Gehrig’s major league record with his eighth straight season of at least 100 runs and 200 hits last year.

Japan won the inaugural WBC three years ago, beating Cuba 10-6 in the finals at Petco Park in San Diego. Sadahara Oh, the Japanese career home run leader who managed that team, was on hand to watch Japan make it two straight.

“We became No. 1 in the world,” manager Tatsunori Hara. “Last time it was manager Oh that won the world championship, and the fact that we were able to obtain victory No. 2 following him, I feel happy and I feel really thankful for that.

“Day-by-day, the team evolved. I felt like we could have scored more, but it was difficult for us to earn runs with the Korean defense.”

Japan, which outhit South Korea 15-5, blew several scoring opportunities, stranded 14 baserunners and allowed South Korea to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. But it won anyway.

“We became No. 1 in the world,” Hara said. “The fact that two Asian countries were able to play against each other in the finals is something that we and the Koreans can be proud of.”

South Korea tied the game at 3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Lee Bum-ho’s run-scoring single off Japanese closer Yu Darvish (2-1), who got in trouble by issuing one-out walks to Kim Hyun-soo and Kim Tae-kyun, the 3-4 hitters in the lineup.

Darvish struck out Choo Shin-soo before Lee lined a 1-1 pitch into left field, with pinch-runner Lee Jong-wook scoring easily from second.

Seiichi Uchikawa opened the 10th with a single, was sacrificed to second and took third on a single by Akinori Iwamura. After pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki popped out, Iwamura took second on defensive indifference.

Suzuki hit a 2-2 pitch _ the eighth pitch in his at-bat against Lim Chang-yong (1-1) _ to center for his fourth hit. Suzuki entered with a .211 average and three RBIs in eight previous games.

Given the lead, Darvish worked around a leadoff walk to retire South Korea in the bottom of the 10th, setting off a wild celebration when he struck out Lee Jin-young to end the four-hour game.

“Although there is regret, we did our best,” Kim said. “I myself have no dissatisfaction. We kept coming back.”

After the medal presentations, the champions posed with the trophy behind a large Japanese flag that was laid out on the field, and then carried it around the entire stadium. Japanese fans stuck around Dodger Stadium for nearly an hour celebrating.

Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka won the MVP award for the second straight time after going 3-0 _ the same record he had in the first WBC. The Boston Red Sox right-hander had a 2.45 ERA in 14 2-3 innings over three starts.

“I feel that I am very lucky,” he said. “I’m really thankful for the MVP. I didn’t think it was going to be me at all.”

The game was the latest in an intense rivalry between the Asian powerhouses _ a Far East version of a Yankees-Red Sox matchup. They split four previous games in this 16-team tournament, with Japan’s 6-2 triumph in San Diego last Thursday giving it the Pool 1 title in the second round.

Two days earlier, South Korea won a 4-1 decision, and its players planted the nation’s flag on the mound afterward _ not the first time that’s happened. Suzuki, 6-for-10 in two WBC title games, made sure it wouldn’t happen again on this night.

South Korea beat Japan twice last summer in the Beijing Olympics en route to the gold medal. The South Koreans also beat Japan twice in the inaugural WBC three years ago before the Japanese won their semifinal matchup. South Korea beat Japan 3-1 to win the bronze medal in the 2000 Olympics after losing to its rival 8-0 earlier in the Games.

Japan took a 3-1 lead with single runs in the seventh and eighth. Yasuyuki Kataoka singled off Jong Hyun-wook to open the seventh, stole second, took third on Suzuki’s bunt single and scored on Nakajima’s single. Iwamura’s sacrifice fly off Ryu Hyun-jin in the eighth gave the Japanese a two-run lead.

South Korea got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Lee doubled, took third on an infield out and scored on pinch hitter Lee Dae-ho’s sacrifice fly.

Hisashi Iwakuma, a 27-year-old right-hander who won 21 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last year, worked 7 2-3 innings, longest outing of the WBC, and allowed just four hits and two runs. He walked two, struck out six and threw 97 pitches _ three shy of the maximum.

Japan took a 1-0 lead with an unearned run off Bong Jung-keun in the third on Michihiro Ogasawara’s RBI single. Choo tied the game by hitting a 1-1 pitch from Iwakuma over the center field fence to open the fifth for his second homer in two games.

Bong allowed six hits and one run in four-plus innings with three walks and one strikeout while using 94 pitches. A 28-year-old left-hander who pitched in 48 big-league games with Atlanta and Cincinnati from 2002-04, he beat Japan twice earlier in the WBC, giving up six hits and one run in 10 2-3 innings.

“I believe that we were the two best teams in the world,” Bong said. “Asia is best, world best, and Korea and Japan were able to fight until the end. It was a great glory for all of us.”

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