A loyal reader (to whom I am quite grateful) sent in an excellent recap of the Day 1 games from the World Baseball Classic. If you're anything like me, you're one of the people who claimed to be excited about the World Baseball Classic, but then didn't actually make any real effort to watch it. Here's a little bit of what you missed:
• The second batter of the game sacrifice bunting to move a runner to 2nd for Korea.
• A Korean guy injuring his shoulder on a head-first slide into 1st
• A Chinese shortstop swinging so hard at the ball that his helmet popped off
The rest of the write-up for the Day 1 action is, as they say, after the jump. I'm aware that we're a little behind on this, but the point isn't to actually update you on the outcome of the games, but give you a peek at the atmosphere and feel of the games. It sounds kind of awesome.
So I got home late last night and decided to stay up to catch a little WBC action between Korea and Taiwan on tape delay (1:30 a.m.). Well, I couldn't turn away and it rolled right into the live action of Japan vs. China at 4:30 a.m. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, so here are 5 quick things about each game.
GAME 1 Korea vs. Taiwan (Chinese-Taipei) Final: Korea 2 Taiwan 0
1. A New Game — Right off the bat (haha), you recognize Asian baseball and how it's played differently from the game over here. The first Korean batter reaches and then the second batter... bunts him to second. The second batter of the game! I think Billy Beane had an aneurysm at that moment. That, my friends, is small ball. Very interesting.
2. It Matters — The enthusiasm and effort of the players was fantastic. Korean clean-up batter Dong Joo Kim, who was noticeably more stout than most Korean players, hit a grounder to short with a man on 2B, and he nearly killed himself trying to beat it out. At full speed, he dove into first base head-first with what is probably one of the worst slides I've ever seen. Or course, he had to leave the game with an injured shoulder, but the effort was there, even if the technique and correct choice wasn't.
3. Prospects on Stage — Taiwanese relief pitcher Po-Hsuan Keng (a Single A Toronto Blue Jays prospect) gave a good account of himself going 2 innings and only giving up 1 walk and getting 1 strikeout. He showcased a plus curve with major bite that was fun to watch. Never would have seen him without the WBC.
4. Old Faces/New Places — Chan Ho Park closed out the 2-0 win for Korea, getting the save for Jae Seo. Maybe that's where Park should land to be worth anything in MLB again. He made it interesting though, getting bailed out by a great defensive play that saved a run and would have put the tying run in scoring position.
5. History — I'm glad I got to see the opening game of World Baseball Classic I. I love the carnival atmosphere of international competitions, and I swear (and it was confirmed on the Braves message board, bravesjournal.com) that there were faint Braves/FSU Tomahawk chants on several occasions. I don't know why. It was tough to make out anyway among the constant horns, drums, clapping and activity of the crowd. Very fun.
GAME 2 Japan vs. China Final: Japan 18 China 2
1. Double Vision — They've done it. The Japanese have cloned Tim Hudson! Japanese starter Koji Uehara has the exact same pitching delivery as the Braves ace. I mean, it was so uncanny that it took me all of one pitch to make the connection. He finished 5 innings with 6Ks and 0 BBs, giving up a 2-run HR and getting the win.
2. David v. Goliath — While the game was eventually called for mercy, it was a competitive 2-2 into the 5th. One of the more amusing early game moments was when Chinese captain SS Yufeng Zhang was so intent on getting the upset that his helmet came flying right off as he swung through a Uehara pitch in the 2nd inning. It went spinning off his head and he whirled around and caught it. I'm sure he had visions of sending that one through the Tokyo Dome roof.
3. Big Play — With two outs and Japan looking to add to a 2-0 lead, Japanese 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka took a lead off first. Nishioka was a perfect 41 for 41 in stolen base attempts for Bobby Valentine's Japanese League champions. Everyone in the building knew he was going to steal, but China's not the most talented team and catcher is a difficult position for even MLB teams to fill. Sure enough, Nishioka took off. Chinese catcher Wei Wang fired a strike to 2B to nail Nishioka, ending the inning and the threat. Awesome.
4. Wei Wang is Way Right! — Making his bid for Player of the Game, Chinese C Wei Wang takes Uehara deep for a 2-run HR to tie the game at 2-2. It was the first homerun in WBC history (obviously).
5. Tsuyoshi Strikes Back — A half-inning later in the top of the 5th, Japanese 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka gets redemption for his caught stealing, hitting a 3-run HR to put his team up for good. CF Kosuke Fukudome follows to make it back-to-back HRs and the rout is on. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Anyway, I figured I'd enjoy seeing the Dominican's and Venezuelas and even the Cubas of the World Baseball Classic, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed watching teams made up largely of players I've never heard of.