“Tomorrow (Nov. 19) is our last game, so I hope we can play well against them. I hope we can beat them (Japan) and pave the way for Korean baseball to develop.”
Quality Control (QC) coach Lee Jin-young, the man behind the victory over Chinese Taipei, is hoping for a good showing from his team against Japan.
Led by Ryu Jung-il, the South Korean national baseball team defeated Chinese Taipei 6-1 in their final qualifying game for the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on April 18.
South Korea, which won 3-2 against Australia in the first round, but lost 1-2 to Japan on Sunday, now has two wins and one loss, placing it in second place behind Japan (three wins and no losses) and punching its ticket to the final. The final game will be played today (Nov. 19) at 6 p.m.굿모닝토토 도메인
While starting pitcher Won Tae-in (Samsung Lions) pitched five innings of three-hit ball, one walk, five strikeouts and one earned run in the win over Chinese Taipei, the other reward was the rebound of the offense. After scoring a combined four runs in the previous two games, the Korean bats pounded out 10 hits and six runs on the day to torment the Taiwanese mound.
They had a little help from coach Lee Jin-young. Lee, a former left-handed hitter, volunteered to pitch batting practice before the game. This was because Taiwan’s starting pitcher, Wang Yen-chung, was a lefty.
“For the second day in a row (after Chihiro Sumida against Japan), the starting pitcher was a lefty,” Lee said after the game. I threw two days in a row. I threw it to help,” Lee said with a bright smile, adding, “I think it paid off because our batters hit well.”
Korea will now look to avenge their loss to Japan in the preliminary round and win their first APBC title. In the previous edition of the tournament, the 2017 ABPC, Korea finished as runners-up in a tightly contested tournament with Japan and Chinese Taipei.
To do so, they will have to get past Japanese starter Tatsuya Imai (Seibu Lions). Boasting a fastball in excess of 150 mph, he has a 10-5 record and a 2.30 ERA in 19 games this season.
The coach said, “Tomorrow we have an ace pitcher for the Japanese national team. I’ve seen (Imai’s pitches) and the ball is fast. His fastball is over 150 kilometers and he has a good changeup. The Japanese pitchers are good, but I think the hitters have improved their form until today. Tomorrow (Nov. 19) is the last game, so I hope we can give them a good fight.”
Lee, who made his professional debut with the Ssangbangul Raiders in 1999 and went on to play for the SK Wyverns (now the SSG Landers), LG Twins, and KT Wiz, is no stranger to the Taegeum Mark, with a career batting average of .305 (6975 hits in 2125 at-bats), 169 home runs, and 979 RBIs. He played for the national team at the 2003 Asian Baseball Championship, 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC), 2006 Doha Asian Games, 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2009 WBC, and 2013 WBC.
The coach has particularly fond memories of the Tokyo Dome, where the tournament will be held. In the bottom of the fourth inning of Game 1 of the 2006 WBC against Japan, he made a picturesque diving catch of Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s hit with the bases loaded. It gave South Korea a 3-2 come-from-behind victory in that game and helped them reach the quarterfinals of the tournament. Lee’s nickname, “The People’s Right Fielder,” was also coined at this time.
Lee wanted his players to win more than anything. This is despite the fact that the APBC is a tournament for “growth rather than performance,” with only players aged 24 or younger (born after January 1, 1999) or within their third year in a professional club (born after 2021), and three wild cards available to players born after January 1, 1994. The reasoning was clear. “I’ve been on the national team a lot,” he said.
“I’ve been in the national team a lot,” he said, “but results matter. This is a tournament where young Korean athletes are looking at me and the future, and I think I have to win. Only by winning can I grow and feel something,” he emphasized.
Korea’s baseball team hasn’t had much luck against Japan lately. Their last win against Japan in a pro-to-pro situation dates back to the Premier12 semifinals on November 19, 2015.
“We’ve been losing a lot to Japan lately, so I’m sure our fans are disappointed as well,” said Lee Jin-young. “I hope we can win tomorrow’s game and pave the way for Korean baseball to improve.”
Meanwhile, South Korea will send right-hander Kwak Bin (Doosan Bears) to the mound against Japan. Kwak, who was called up by Doosan in the first round of the 2018 draft, has posted a 27-26 record with one save and a 3.87 ERA in 103 games (404.2 innings) so far this year. This season, he went 12-7 with a 2.90 ERA, earning his first career double-digit win.