Korea powers past Mexico

Korea powers past Mexico

SAN DIEGO -- The Koreans turned PETCO Park, the home of the Padres, into a launching pad on Sunday night, hitting three solo homers into the left-field bleachers on their way to an 8-2 victory over Mexico in the evening half of a Round 2-opening World Baseball Classic doubleheader.

Korea will play rival Japan on Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET with a chance for either team to ascend quickly to a semifinal game at Dodger Stadium this coming Saturday or Sunday evening. The finals are in Los Angeles on March 23.

"Japanese teams are good teams," said Tae Kyun Kim, the Korean first baseman who hit one of the homers and later added a two-run single. "Every time we play them, we always want to win and we are always excited and concerned about that."

In the day half of the twinbill, Japan defeated Cuba, 6-0, behind six innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout work from Daisuke Matsuzaka, who ran his overall Classic record to 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA.

Korea and Japan met twice in the Asian bracket with the teams splitting the pair of games. Japan clinched a spot in the second round with a 14-2 win and Korea won the seeding game, 1-0. It'll be their sixth meeting in the Classic over the course of the first two tournaments. And though the Koreans hold a 3-2 edge, they are still smarting from losing to Japan in a single-elimination semifinal game in 2006.

"In Tokyo, we lost one and we won one," Korean manager In Sik Kim said. "Now that we're in San Diego, we're going to play them again. We came here and we knew Japan had the strongest team. So we came here to play with them. We have to do our best. That's what I think."

Korea, now 4-1 in this Classic, is 10-2 over the course of the two tournaments, the best overall record of any team. Japan was 5-3 in 2006 and is now 8-4 over the course of the first two tournaments, although the Japanese defeated Cuba in 2006 to win the inaugural Classic.

Mexico is slated to play Cuba on Monday at 11 p.m. ET. Under the double-elimination rules of the first two rounds, the winner will live to die another day in the bracket while the loser is eliminated.

The Cubans, who have gone to the finals in 40 consecutive international tournaments, dating back to 1951, crushed Mexico, 16-4, last week in the seeding game of the Pool B bracket.

The three Korean homers -- by Bum Ho Lee, Tae Kyun Kim and Young Min Ko -- all were hit off of Mexico left-hander Oliver Perez, the former Padres pitcher who this offseason re-signed with the Mets as a free agent for three years at $36 million.

Perez hardly looked like gang busters against the Koreans and was yanked with two out in fifth, having surrendered four runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts.

"Well, I want to say that all of us are upset," said Perez, who came up through the Padres organization and pitched for them in 2003 and mid-2004 until he was traded to the Pirates. "We don't really like being in this position. But we need to realize that this is baseball. We need to take the good with the bad. We need to be professional."

Korea, which fell behind Mexico, 2-0, after it scored twice in the top of the second, tied the score in the bottom of the inning on Lee's one-out homer and a throwing error by second baseman and Padres product Edgar Gonzalez, allowing the second run to score.

Kim homered to open the fourth inning, giving Korea a 3-2 edge. Ko homered with two out in the fifth to extend the lead. When Perez walked the next hitter -- Hyun Soo Kim -- he was pulled from the game.

Korea extended its lead to 8-2 with four runs in the seventh. The key blows of the inning were a two-run single by the first baseman Kim, Yong Kyu Lee's sacrifice fly and Ki Hyuk Park's RBI single.

The Koreans are not noted as a home run-hitting team. And like the Japanese, who won by amassing 11 singles in the first game, are more known for their execution than for hitting the long ball.

"I would say that everyone knows the type of ball they play," Perez said. "On any count or at any count of the game, they can do anything. Three solo homers? Koreans play good baseball. They can play power. They can play small baseball. That's why you have to be careful."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.