Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Korea Wins Thriller in Opener

By: Dick Cooke
Korea 8, USA 7

Not the ideal way to open the tournament. It was a great game if you were a fan, absolutely gut wrenching if you were in the dugout on either side. Korea was as advertised. Quality pitching, speed at the top of the order and power guys in the middle.

We got up 1-0 in the first, but the Korean third baseman hit a monster home run in the second to put them ahead. They get another on a wild pitch in the third and then, after we tie it at 3 in the 5th, they get three in the bottom half to go up 6-3.

Mike Koplove does a nice job in relief of starter Brandon Knight to minimize the damage. Nate Schierholtz hits a line-drive home run in the 6th to make it 6-4, and that's how it stands until the ninth.

Brian Duensing and Mike Jepson do a nice job out of the pen, and Korea's Taehyon Chong, a submarine right-hander is spectacular, as he allows just Schierholtz' home run while striking out the last five batters he faces. Over 2 2/3 innings, he throws four fastballs, and all the rest are sliders - to both right and left-handers. Our right-handed hitters struggle, as he throws one slider after another and pounds the strike zone.

The ninth inning is why it's a great game, and why it's great that there is no clock.

We enter the inning down 6-4. Third baseman Mike Hessman hits the longest home run I've ever seen off of an 84 mph right-hander named Kijoo Han, who is the Korean closer. 6-5 Korea.

Taylor Teagarden follows with a single to right off of a 93 mph fastball. Brian Barden doubles to right center on a ball I thought would be caught, and suddenly we have second and third with no one out.

Another pitching change for Korea with Suk Min Yoon entering the game. 91-93 mph fastball with a big-league 85 mph slider. John Gall, hitting in our leadoff spot strikes out for the third time swinging through a high 90 mph fastball. Jayson Nix gets out front on a slider, pops it up to second base, and we are down to our last out.

With a base open, they pitch around Terry Tiffee, who would hit from the left-side as a switch hitter. It's all on the shoulders of Matt Brown who looks real bad on two sliders to go down 0-2. He battles and battles, then drives a two-strike slider into left field to give us a 7-6 lead. A phenomenal at-bat.

Bottom of the ninth, and Jeff Stevens enters the game to close for us. He was with us in Taiwan, and Davey has great confidence in him. Lead-off double down the left-field line on an 0-2 fastball gets past a diving Mike Hessman. Their next hitter, a lefty who is pinch hitting, fights off pitch after pitch and finally grounds out to second base, moving the lead runner to third with one out.

The next hitter hits a soft ground ball to second base. Jayson Nix tries to get the runner at home, but he beats the throw to make it 7-7 with a runner on first and one out.

I briefly look down at my chart, then look back up, only to see the base runner streaking toward third as Stevens has made a pick-off attempt which sails over Brown's head. Runner at third, one out.

The next hitter hits a fly ball to fairly shallow center field. Dexter Fowler, in for defensive purposes, makes the catch and throws home but it's too late. Game over; bus leaves in 20 minutes.

A very angry dugout and clubhouse, but we can't cry for long as we play a good Netherlands team tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.

This was a game that each team would say they should have won, and a game the fans appreciate. It will be a good test to see how our team responds after this difficult loss. We battled great tonight, had some quality at-bats and got some good pitching from parts of our pen. Nothing from Davey after the game. He simply wants us ready to go by 9:45. We'll start Strasburg tomorrow, the college pitcher who is now on the biggest stage of his life.

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