S. Korea blown out by Japan for 2nd straight loss; tournament hangs in balance

March 10, 2023

South Korea was crushed by Japan 13-4 on Friday for its second straight loss at the World Baseball Classic (WBC), getting pushed to the brink of elimination with two games remaining.

Japan overwhelmed South Korea with 13 hits, including two by Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani and three from the new Boston Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida.

Yang Eui-ji homered for the second straight game for South Korea, and Park Kun-woo also went deep in the losing effort.

South Korea started the tournament with an 8-7 loss to Australia on Thursday. South Korea must now win the next two games — against the Czech Republic on Sunday and China on Monday — and then get help from other countries to finish among the top two teams in Pool B and reach the quarterfinals.

South Korea doesn’t control its own destiny and must rely on a complicated tiebreaking procedure.

South Korean starter Kim Kwang-hyun was on fire early on, as he struck out five through two innings.

His teammates responded in kind with three runs off starter Yu Darvish in the top of the third. Yang touched him for a two-run home run, and after Kim Ha-seong reached with a two-out error, Lee Jung-hoo brought him home with a single to left, putting South Korea up 3-0.

But the lead evaporated in the very next half inning, as Japan put up a four-spot while chasing Kim from the game.

The left-hander walked the first two batters of the bottom third, and it set up consecutive RBI hits by Lars Nootbaar and Kensuke Kondoh that made it a 3-2 game.

Won Tae-in relieved Kim, and intentionally walked the ever-dangerous Shohei Ohtani to load the bases and put the double play in order.

Won cleared one hurdle by getting cleanup Munetaka Murakami to pop out but failed to get past Masataka Yoshida, who laced a single to center to give Japan a 4-3 lead.

With Darvish out of the game after three innings, South Korea failed to cash in off the new pitcher Shota Imanaga in the top fifth, when Park Byung-ho flied out to right in a two-out, two-on opportunity.

Japan made South Korea pay dearly for it in the bottom fifth, as Konsuke Kondoh launched a solo shot to the right field for a 5-3 Japan advantage.

Ohtani doubled off the third South Korean pitcher, Gwak Been, for his first hit of the night and came around to score on Yoshida’s sacrifice fly for a 6-3 lead.

Park Kun-woo got a run back for South Korea with a solo shot in the top sixth, a line drive shot off Imanaga’s fastball.

But Japan responded with a five-spot in the bottom sixth, putting the game out of reach.

Kondoh drew a bases-loaded walk to get the ball rolling, and Ohtani made it 8-4 with a single to right. A sacrifice fly and two singles later, Japan’s lead ballooned to 11-4.

Japan added two more runs in the seventh with a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk against the hapless South Korean bullpen.