TAICHUNG, Taiwan, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) — They have played a longer season than anyone on the South Korean national baseball team, but the members of the Doosan Bears, weeks after winning the domestic league championship, continue to carry the load at the Premier 12 tournament.
South Korea defeated Cuba 7-2 in Monday’s quarterfinals at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium, setting up a semifinals date against Japan on Thursday.
And it was the representatives of the Bears, the 2015 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) champion, who played crucial roles again.
Left-hander Jang Won-jun, the Bears’ No. 2 starter in the postseason, came within an out of qualifying for the victory. He held Cuba to two runs on four hits in 4 2/3 solid innings.
Jang was spotted a 5-0 advantage after just two innings, with his Doosan teammate, right fielder Min Byung-hun, knocking in the game’s first run.
After Park Byung-ho led off the top second with a triple, Min drove him home with a single up the middle. It sparked a five-run inning that quickly set the tone for the game.
Min Byung-hun of South Korea hits an RBI single in the second inning of the Premier 12 quarterfinals game against Cuba at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan, on Nov. 16, 2015. (Yonhap)
Min went 2-for-4 at the plate to raise his tournament average to .571 (4-for-7) with three RBIs.
Min also made an impact on defense. With the men at the corners with no out in the fifth, Estayle Hernandez bounced a single to right to put Cuba on the board. Alexander Malleta easily scored from third, and instead of challenging the lead runner at the plate, Min threw to third to nab Osvaldo Vazquez.
The key assist killed what little momentum Cuba was trying to build: Cuba scored one more run in the fifth but wouldn’t add another the rest of the night.
Jang threw to his Bears battery mate, Yang Eui-ji, who called a typically strong game behind the plate and went 3-for-3 with two RBIs at the dish.
With South Korea up 5-2, Yang provided a bit more breathing room with a solo home run in the eighth.
Kim Hyun-soo, who has started each of South Korea’s six games in left field, went 2-for-3 at the plate and is batting a robust .320 (8-for-25) with a team-high nine RBIs.
Shortstop Kim Jae-ho was an unsung hero hitting in the ninth spot, laying down two sacrifice bunts and making solid plays in the field. He is hitting .500 (6-for-12) and is leading the team with five runs scored.
After one Doosan pitcher started the game, another Doosan pitcher closed the deal, as closer Lee Hyun-seung got the final two outs.
In all, there are eight members of the Bears on the national team. After finishing the KBO regular season in third place, the Bears had to play three rounds of the postseason, totaling 15 games in total. They had one day off before joining the national team prior to the Premier 12.
Yang Eui-ji sustained a small fracture to his right big toe during the postseason after taking a foul to the foot behind the plate and hasn’t had time to undergo proper treatment. Min started a group stage game against the Dominican Republic last Wednesday but was forced to leave early after getting hit by a pitch on his left foot.
Jang and Lee have been workhorses. Jang tossed 169 2/3 innings in the regular season and 26 2/3 more in the postseason. He then threw 2 2/3 innings against Cuba in an exhibition game in Seoul on Nov. 5, seven more against the Dominican Republic at the Premier 12 and 4 2/3 versus Cuba on Monday.
South Korean pitcher Lee Hyun-seung throws a pitch in the ninth inning of the Premier 12 quarterfinals game against Cuba at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan, on Nov. 16, 2015. (Yonhap)
Lee, who threw 46 2/3 innings in the regular season, was asked to toss 13 high-pressure innings in the postseason, and then 2 1/3 more in the ongoing tournament.
Lee, 32, said wearing the national flag gives him a renewed sense of motivation.
“Whenever I take the mound, I keep telling myself I absolutely have to pitch a perfect inning,” Lee told reporters after Monday’s victory. “I think we’ve reached the semifinals because everyone is pitching with the same mindset.”
By beating Cuba, South Korea earned itself a chance to avenge a 5-0 loss to Japan in the first game of the Premier 12 on Nov. 8. Lee said he couldn’t wait for the rematch to get under way.
“We’re all ready for that game,” he said. “We will try to play better than we did the last time. We will fight to the end.”