The final game of Pool A is tonight. It features the 2008 Olympic Gold winner Korea and the reigning WBC Champion Japan.
Korea - Jung-Keun Bong (봉중근)
28 years old / 191cm / 98kg / Throws: L / Bats: L
Japan - Hisashi Iwakuma (岩隈久志)
27 years old / 190cm / 86kg / Throws: R / Bats: R
Ichiro is going to be my key player of the game again for Japan. If he gets on base like he did against Korea the first time around, I think Japan will be alright. His success will pull the crowd into the game and will motivate the other players. If Korea succeeds in keeping him off-base, Japan could be in trouble early.
Since there is a lefty on the hill for Korea, I'm guessing this means Hara will go with Uchikawa over Inaba and hit Murata fourth again. If it worked the first time around, why go with it again, right?
The one thing I really liked about Japan's approach against Korea the first time around was their patience and diligence at the plate. And while I've never been a huge Murata, he really won me over during his at bat in the second when he drilled his 3-run homer.
Take a look at this awesome at bat:
1 Called strike 2 Swinging strike 3 Ball 4 Foul 5 Foul 6 Foul 7 Foul 8 Foul 9 Ball 10 Home run
Not only did he hang in there and make Kim throw 10 pitches, he also hit a 3-run shot that pretty much dashed away Korea's hopes for a come back.
And just before Murata's 10 pitch effort, Nakajima and Aoki also stretched out Kim, making him throw 8 pitches for a walk and 5 pitches for a force out, respectively. Between three batters, Kim tossed 23 of the 57 total pitches he threw that night.
Japan's game plan should be to make Korea throw a lot of pitches. That means Japan needs to be patient and wait for the pitches they want to hit, not the other way around. Wearing down the Korean pitchers will be another key for Japan's success.
Incidentally, Bong pitched 3 scoreless innings against Taipei and scattered 2 hits and struck out 3; he faced 8 batters. Of the 23 pitches he threw, 14 were for strikes.
Japan will have to be really careful about how they pitch to Tae-Kyun Kim and Dae-Ho Lee, the big boppers in the middle of Korea's lineup. These two guys have combined to go 6-for-14 with 1 HR, 2 doubles (11 TB), 5 walks, 5 runs, and 7 RBI.
I wouldn't be too surprised if Darvish makes an appearance tonight. If Iwakuma gets into any trouble early, my guess is Hara will call on Darvish to bridge the gap to the relievers. I also expect Watanabe to get some playing time tonight, especially in sticky spots where the team needs a couple of quick outs. He could be a key pitcher for Japan.
Defensively, this is a much better fielding team than what you saw during the Olympics. And there was one play during the first Korea/Japan that really stuck out.
In the bottom of the first with Keun-Woo Jeong on first, Hyun-Soo Kim hit a single to right. Ichiro fielded the ball and threw a bullet to Murata at third. Murata read the play beautifully, realizing there was no play with the runner and third and immediately fired off a throw Nakajima at second, nailing Kim. This was a big play because it meant Tae-Kyun Kim's home run wasn't a game-tying 3-run homer, but rather a 2-run shot.
It's hard to say what might have been different if Kim's homer tied the game, but it's entirely possible that the first inning gets drawn out a lot longer than it did, forcing Matsuzaka out of the game a lot earlier. And that could have been a big mental blow for Japan.
TV Ratings for the first Korea/Japan game are in: for the Kanto region, 37.8% and for the Kansai region 40.1%. The ratings weren't high enough to break the all-time high rating for a WBC game of 43.4%, set during the Finals Game between Cuba and Japan at the first WBC, but it did manage to break the second all-time high of 36.2%, set during the Semi-finals Game between Korea and Japan, also at the first WBC. Source