It's not a shock that either Chinese Taipei or the Netherlands advanced to the second round of the World Baseball Classic. Both were considered to have good teams. What's shocking is that they both advanced at the expense of defending runner-up Korea.
Korea vs. Chinese Taipei
A two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning by Jungho Kang gave Korea a 3-2 victory over Chinese Taipei, but Chinese Taipei advanced to the next round and Korea was eliminated anyway on tie-breakers in the round-robin tournament.
Korea's 5-0 loss to the Netherlands in their first game put them in a terrible hole. The tie-breaker is a net-runs formula that essentially meant that Korea had to win this game by six runs to advance to the next round. But it was clear from the beginning that the Chinese Taipei team and the 23,431 fans at Taichung Intercontinental Stadium (a record for a baseball game in Taiwan) wanted nothing short of a victory.
Chinese Taipei took a 2-0 lead when they notched single runs in the third and fourth innings off of Korean starter Won Jun Change. The Taiwanese team got their first run on a two-out single by shortstop Chih-Sheng Lin. When Korean center fielder Junwoo Jeon bobbled the ball in center, Dai-Kang Yang was able to score all the way from first base.
The second Chinese Taipei run scored the next inning when second baseman Yen-Wen Kuo hit a two-out double and scored on Dai-Kang Yang's single.
Two great throws by Chinese Taipei (and Houston Astros) center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin (I know. There's a lot of Linsanity going on in Taiwan) kept Korea off the board. In the bottom of the first inning, Korean second baseman Keunwoo Jeong stole second base with two outs, but tried to advance to third when the throw went into center field. Lin threw him out at third to end the inning.
Then in the fifth inning, with Korea trailing 2-0, Jeong again tested Lin's arm when he tried to score from first base on a two out single to center field. Lin hit the cutoff man, second baseman Yen-Wen Kuo, who threw a perfect strike to catcher Chih-Kang Kao, who did a textbook perfect job of blocking the plate and then tagged out Jeong.
(That's Jeong in the picture above after he was thrown out at home.)
Batting last in this game really hurt Korea, because that meant they needed to score eight runs off of former Dodgers all-star Hung-Chih Kuo in the bottom of the eighth inning in order to advance, rather than having another turn at the plate in the ninth. They got off to a good start in the eighth as "The Lion King" Seong Yuop Lee hit a lead-off double and then scored when the next batter, Dae Ho Lee, singled him home. But Kuo retired the next two batters before Jungho Kang hit a two-out, line drive home run to give Korea the lead. But Kuo easily retired the next batter on a pop up.
The two teams played the top of the ninth inning, but it was meaningless. Win or lose, Chinese Taipei had clinched the number one seed coming out of this pool and Korea had been eliminated.
The crowd in Taichung deserves special praise, and they were a big reason why this game was so entertaining. They were chanting and banging noisemakers throughout the game and ROC flags were flying everywhere. They got a little quiet after Korea took the lead in the eighth inning as they wanted a win, but they gave their home heroes a big round of applause at the end.
Chinese Taipei, Korea and the Netherlands all finished pool play with a 2-1 record. But the tiebreaker was a run differential formula in games they played against each other, and Chinese Taipei was at +4 and the Netherlands were an even zero. Korea was the odd team out at -4.
So four years after Chinese Taipei was bounced from the tournament without a win, they've advanced to the second round. And Korea, who has never finished lower than third in the first two tournaments, is going home early.
Netherlands vs. Australia
Korea was placed in such a difficult position because the Netherlands had earlier that day clinched a berth in the second round with a 4-1 victory over Australia.
The Dutch team jumped on former Reds farmhand Dushan Ruzic for a run in the first and three in the second. The run in the first scored after Andrelton Simmons (who put on a defensive show in this game) led off the bottom of the first with a double and scored two batters later on a Roger Bernadina single. The Dutch added another run in the second on a Simmons groundout, one batter before Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop crushed a hanging slider by Ruzic for a two-run home run.
Dutch pitcher Robbie Cordemans kept the Aussies in check with five scoreless innings, allowing only two singles. Cordemans struck out three and didn't walk anyone in picking up the win. But the Netherlands was unable to score as well. Australian pitcher Chris Oxspring, who played for the Padres in 2005, replaced Ruzic in the third inning and tossed five scoreless inning, giving up only one hit, although he did walk four batters.
But the real drama came in the top of the ninth inning when Dutch 7'1" reliever Loek Van Mil, who pitched in Triple-A for the Angels last season, came on for the save. With one out, Van Mil allowed back-to-back singles to Mike Walker and Corey Adamson. Then he got one up to Harman who put a charge into the ball, but the ball wasn't traveling well to left field in this game and Randolph Oduber caught the ball at the wall for the second out. Then Van Mil struck out the final batter of the game for the save.
The win guaranteed a berth in the second round for the Netherlands, as any result in the Chinese Taipei/Korea game later that day would result in the Netherlands advancing either outright or on tiebreakers.
China vs. Brazil
China entered the 2013 World Baseball Classic with two goals: To not embarrass themselves and to win one game so they would automatically qualify for the 2017 tournament.
China scored five runs in the eighth inning off of the Brazilian bullpen for a come-from-behind 5-2 victory.
Brazil had rested their best pitchers against Cuba, hoping to use them in a more winnable game against Brazil. The strategy seemed to work as starter Tao Bu allowed only one run on two hits over five innings of work. The only run off of Bu scored on a two-out single by right fielder JC Muniz, who hit a comebacker off of Bu's leg that went into left field, scoring Daniel Matsumoto from second base.
But Brazilian starter Oscar Nakaoshi was even better with four scoreless innings. Nakaoshi allowed four hits, but walked no one and struck out six Chinese batters. He was relieved by Astros farmhand Murilo Gouvea, who blanked China for three more innings.
But Gouvea stayed in the game to pitch the eighth inning and he followed up a lead-off single with a strikeout and two walks to load the bases with one out. Gouvea was then pulled for Mariners minor leaguer Thyago Viera, who pitched in the Venezuelan Summer League last year. Viera walked Chinese second baseman Lei Li to make the score 2-1, and then gave up a two-run single to China's best player Ray Chang, who is expected to play for the Reds Triple-A affiliate in Louisville this season. Viera retired one more batter, but was pulled after he hit a batter to load the bases up again.
New Brazilian pitcher Hugo Kanabushi then walked home two runs to make it 5-2. Chinese pitcher Jiangang Lu allowed a lead-off single in the top of the ninth, but a double play and a strikeout gave China the win and an automatic invitation to the 2017 WBC.
Lu was the winner for China, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings, giving up one hit and one walk. He struck out two. Gouvea took the loss for Brazil, as he was charged with three runs on one hit and three walks over 3.1 innings. Gouvea struck out four.
For Brazil, the tournament ends without a victory and they'll have to qualify for the 2017 tournament. But the future looks bright for Brazilian baseball, as they weren't even expected to make it to Japan and they acquitted themselves well. They only lost to the powerful Japanese and Cuban teams by scores of 5-3 and 5-2, and they led most of the way against China. They were in every game they played. Brazil has their first native major league player in Yan Gomes and it certainly looks like Andre Rienzo will soon join Gomes in the AL Central. No one is going to want to face Brazil in qualifying in 2017.
For China, they got their one win and international scouts are saying the quality of play by the Chinese is much improved over 2009, although they still have a long way to go before a major league prospect emerges out of Mainland China. One issue is getting the better athletes to play baseball rather than the more popular Olympic sports.
One game remains in these two pools as Japan takes on Cuba at 4 am Central tomorrow morning. However, both teams have already qualified for the next round and the game will just decide seeding.