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Monday, March 20, 2006

It's Japan!

I'm probably the last person in the world who is following this tournament to know, but Japan has defeated Korea in what was a thrilling game to watch. It was made all the more enjoyable by the quick pace of the Asian pitchers--the game went 3 hrs, 46 minutes on my Tivo, despite a 45-minute rain delay! Compare that to the 3 hr, 52 minute Cuba/DR game.

It was an excellent pitching duel until the 7th, when Japan exploded to score 5 runs, 4 of which were courtesy of the infamous Arizonan meltdown, Byung-Hyun Kim. While the early innings (as well as the Cuba/DR game) featured winds blowing in from centerfield that absolutely deadened any ball hit out there, the rains came in the 7th, and with it came Japan's bats. The big hit that got it started was Kosuke Fukudome's pinch-hit home run. Fukudome really should be the starting centerfielder for Japan, given his extraordinary season last year (0.328/0.430/0.590), but they sat him in favor of the decent Norichika Aoki (0.344/0.387/0.417), who Japan's manager felt was a better fit in the leadoff spot.

Korea couldn't get anything together offensively, and their bullpen fell apart, but their starting pitcher, Jae-Wong Seo, was brilliant. I was frankly shocked to see him removed in the 6th inning, as the guy had been dominant and had only thrown 56 pitches. It was a shame to see his effort go to waste--I'll be interested to see how he does in a full year with the Dodgers.

The last Reds player exited the tournament with Korea's elimination: Jung Bong, who came in to face a single left-handed batter, finished the tournament with an 0.00 ERA in limited appearances. While he didn't get much playing time, I hope he is able to take this success with him and get back on track this year in the Reds' minor league system. It would be nice to see some good eventually come from the Chris Reitsma trade, especially after Bubba Nelson was released.

I'm excited about tomorrow night's game. I'll be rooting for the Japanese players to finally take out Cuba. Japan has really earned this trip, but I can't say the same for Cuba, who have gotten pretty lucky in this tournament--particularly in the semifinal game. And I have to say, there's just something about the Cuban team I just don't like. Might just be their red pants. So go Japan.

And in case Mr. Oh is reading this, here's my recommended lineup given your favorite group set of starters, assuming Iwamura is fit to play (numbers are from the Japanese league, with the exception of Suzuki):

1. CF Fukudome (0.328/0.430/0.590)
2. DH Matsunaka (0.315/0.412/0.663)
3. RF Suzuki (0.303/0.349/0.436)
4. LF Tamura (0.304/0.369/0.578)
5. 3B Iwamura (0.319/0.388/0.555)
6. 1B Ogasawara (0.282/0.362/0.558)
7. 2B Nishioka (0.268/0.320/0.394)
8. SS Kawasaki (0.271/0.326/0.346)
9. C Satozaki (0.303/0.361/0.481)

With Kazuhiro Wada (0.322/0.397/0.573) and Takahiro Arai (0.305/0.353/0.603) waiting in the wings for key pinch hit opportunities for the #6-9 hitters late in the game. -j