S. Korea falls to Japan 5-0 to open Premier 12 baseball tournament

November 9, 2015
South Korean players walk off the field after losing to Japan 5-0 at the Premier 12 baseball tournament in Sapporo, Japan, on Nov. 8, 2015. (Yonhap)

South Korean players walk off the field after losing to Japan 5-0 at the Premier 12 baseball tournament in Sapporo, Japan, on Nov. 8, 2015. (Yonhap)

SAPPORO (Yonhap) — South Korea dropped to Japan 5-0 in the opening game of the Premier 12 baseball tournament here on Sunday.

Right-hander Shohei Otani twirled six dominant innings and struck out 10, and shortstop Hayato Sakamoto backed him up with a solo home run and a fine defensive play as the co-host claimed the first win at the inaugural tournament at Sapporo Dome.

South Korean starter Kim Kwang-hyun lasted just 2 2/3 innings, having allowed two runs on five hits and two walks for the loss.

South Korea will travel to Chinese Taipei Monday to continue its group stage. Its next game will be against Dominican Republic at 6 p.m. Wednesday local time at Taoyuan, or 7 p.m. in South Korea.

Japan scored first thanks to some lucky bounces in the bottom second. Sho Nakata struck out swinging on a low pitch that bounced away from catcher Kang Min-ho and reached first as the ball rolled all the way to the backstop. Nobuhiro Matsuda then hit a sinking liner to right fielder Son Ah-seop, who dove forward awkwardly just to keep the ball in front of him.

Then Ryosuke Hirata hit a chopper that caromed off the third base bag and trickled into the foul territory, allowing Nakata to score the game’s first run.

A one-out walk loaded the bases, and Sakamoto hit a sacrifice fly to right for a 2-0 lead for Japan.

South Korea avoided further damage in the inning when Hirata was caught in a rundown between third and home and was tagged out at the plate.

Japan failed to capitalize on another bases-loaded opportunity in the third. A pair of singles put the men at the corners with two outs, chasing starter Kim from the game. Reliever Cho Sang-woo walked Matsuda to load the bases, but struck out Hirata to escape the jam.

In the fifth, South Korea finally put a man in scoring position after a double and a walk with nobody out. Otani then regrouped and struck out the next three batters to keep South Korea off the board.

The missed chance haunted South Korea in the bottom fifth, as Japan added a run after two outs. Cha Woo-chan, South Korea’s third pitcher, retired the first two batters of the inning, before giving up a single and a walk. Hirata delivered a single to right that made it 3-0 for Japan, giving himself two RBIs for the evening.

Sakamoto then touched reliever Jung Woo-ram for a solo home run in the bottom sixth, putting Japan up 4-0.

Sakamoto also made his presence felt on defense. South Korea tried to mount a rally with a pair of singles in the eighth against Takahiro Norimoto, Japan’s second pitcher of the game. Lee Yong-kyu hit a bullet up the middle, and Sakamoto made a spectacular diving snare of the liner to keep South Korea at bay.

Norimoto issued a two-out walk to load the bases for Kim Hyun-soo but fanned South Korea’s No. 3 hitter with a 0-2 high fastball.

Japan put the game further out of reach in the eighth. Sakamoto hit a two-out single and came home for a 5-0 lead on a double by Tetsuto Yamada, whose liner went off the glove of third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun and bounced into left field corner.

South Korea frittered away yet another bases-loaded chance in the ninth. Three straight singles off new pitcher Yuki Matsui all went for naught, the left-hander retired the next three batters to preserve the shutout victory.

Japan picked apart five South Korean pitchers with 12 hits and had a base runner in every inning.

Sakamoto went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored from the No. 2 spot. Sho Nakata also had two hits and scored twice, while No. 8 hitter Hirata delivered two RBIs.

For South Korea, its 3-4-5 hitters, Kim Hyun-soo, Lee Dae-ho and Park Byung-ho, were 4-for-12 with six strikeouts. South Korea struck out 14 times against three Japanese pitchers.

South Korean manager Kim In-sik said Otani was just too good.

“He was locked in, and we couldn’t catch up to him,” he said. “Pitchers that came in after him were pretty good, too. We managed to get some hits later on but couldn’t quite finish the job.”

On his own starting pitcher, the manager said Kim Kwang-hyun started out strong but faded away after about 60 pitches.

Hiroki Kokubo, the winning manager, praised his hitters’ patience against Kim Kwang-hyun.

“I thought we could get to him as long as we laid off low pitches,” Kokubo said. “He relies heavily on fastballs and sliders, and I felt we just had to stay away from pitches low and inside (on right-handed hitters). Most of our hits were off pitches down the middle.”

South Korea and Japan are in Group B with Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and the United States.

Group A teams are: Cuba, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, Canada, Puerto Rico and Italy.

The top four teams from each group will reach the quarterfinals, which will also be played in Chinese Taipei.

The semifinals, third-place match and final will be held at Tokyo Dome in the Japanese capital.