In a game that felt more like a championship than a consolation, South Korea held off Chinese Taipei to conclude its World Baseball Classic on a bittersweet note, earning an 11-8 victory in 10 innings on Thursday at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea.
Playing as the away team in front of a lively and proud home crowd, Korea squandered an early six-run lead before Euiji Yang's sacrifice fly scored Jaewon Oh with the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th. Taekyun Kim's pinch-hit two-run homer off losing pitcher Hung-Wen Chen padded the lead, ensuring Korea's 2017 WBC experience wouldn't end without a win.
Korea's 10th-inning triumph made a winner of closer Seung Hwan Oh, who escaped a jam to send the game to extra innings, and ended a hard-fought night on a sour note for Chinese Taipei, which fought back furiously but finished the tournament with an 0-3 record. Korea entered the tournament a favorite to advance out of pool play, but for the second consecutive World Baseball Classic, it didn't advance past the first round.
There may not have been too much drama on the surface, as both teams entered play eliminated from the WBC '17 following two early losses. But that was before Thursday's game evolved into an intense battle full of offense, ejections and energy. The two teams combined to score 19 runs on 31 hits, leave 21 men on base and five hit batters.
Korea's win saved it the stress of having to qualify for the next World Baseball Classic, which Chinese Taipei will have to do now that it finished last in Pool A. The Netherlands and Israel advanced from Pool A and will travel next to Tokyo for the second round.
Korea scored six runs in the first two innings and led 8-3 after its turn to bat in the fourth. Korea finished with 18 hits, a dramatic turnaround for an offense that had managed only one run in 19 innings entering the contest.
"I think I included younger players this time, and they learned a lot," Korean manager In-Sik Kim said. "I believe they learned a great deal. When they go back to their own team and when we have another national team, they will serve as a core part of the national team."
Korea put together a five-run second inning and had the bases loaded with two outs, but Chih-Hao Chang made a diving stab of Yang's line drive to left field to end the inning. Korea brought 11 men to the plate in the frame, scoring on RBI hits by Geonchang Seo, Yongkyu Lee, Ah-seop Son and a sacrifice fly by Lee.
Chinese Taipei responded with five runs spread out over four innings and spent the entire game fighting back against seven Korean pitchers. Chinese Taipei scored three runs in the second, and inched closer on Che-Hsuan Lin's two-run homer off Korea reliever Changmin Sim in the fourth. Yung-Chi Chen's RBI single tied the game at 8 in the seventh.
Ultimately, the game served as a dramatic ending to a disappointing tournament for both teams.
"Team Taiwan and also Team Korea suffered two losses, so we really wanted to win this game," said Taipei coach Fu-Lien Wu, who met with the media since manager Tai-Yuan Kuo was ejected. "So we did our best, and it is a pity that we missed the opportunity."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED You don't look sick to me: Kim's insurance blast in the 10th punctuated a surprisingly tense game on an unlikely note. Kim, who sent a Chen breaking ball into the left-field seats, didn't start because of an illness. He ended up playing a pivotal role in the game's finish.
Oh & Wang: Oh, baby! Both teams relied on late-inning relievers to defuse tense jams in the late innings with the game tied. Taipei turned to Chen to escape a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the top of the ninth. Korea brought on Oh after Chih-Hsien Chiang doubled to lead off the frame. Wang needed one pitch to retire the side, while Oh conjured up two strikeouts and a harmless fly to send the game to extras.
"I sent Oh to the mound earlier than I expected, but I'm sorry for him because he pitched for two innings," Kim said. "I thanked him for the victory." More >
Scary moment: Former Mariners first baseman Dae-Ho Lee was hit by a pitch on the earflap of his batting helmet during Korea's five-run second inning. Lee went to the ground and was attended to by training staff for a few minutes before walking to first base to a nice ovation. Lee was hit again in the sixth inning, on the front foot by a bouncing breaking ball from reliever Sheng-Hsiung Huang, who was ejected.
Bat control: Korea left fielder Yongkyu Lee's second hit of the afternoon, a bloop single he golfed into right off Wei-Lun Pan, didn't just start Korea's two-rally in the fourth. It also provided one of the game's most GIF-able moments when Lee, perhaps unsure if his hit would fall safely, carried his bat with him all the way to first base, rounding it with the stick still in his hands.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Korea continued its historical World Baseball Classic dominance against Chinese Taipei with the win, improving to 4-0 all-time. Even when Chinese Taipei advanced to the second round in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, its one loss in pool play came against Korea.