Korea leaves Classic with no regrets

Korea leaves Classic with no regrets

LOS ANGELES -- The Koreans would have preferred the gold medal in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but the silver version of the tournament's hardware will suffice for now.

Being known as the second-best baseball country in the world, behind only two-time tournament champion Japan, is still quite an accomplishment. That's how Team Korea views its finish.

On Monday, Japan topped Korea, 5-3, in 10 innings in the championship game at Dodger Stadium. Korea ended the 2009 tourney with a 6-3 record. Over two Classics, the country is 12-4.

"I believe we did our best in the game," pitcher Jung Keun Bong said after Monday's loss. "It was a great game until the end for both teams. I believe that we were the best two teams in the world. Asia is the best, the world best, and Korea and Japan were able to fight to the end. It was great for all of us."

The title game was the fifth meeting between the two countries in this year's tournament and the eighth time the teams met in two Classics. The countries have four wins apiece, but Japan has the upper hand, eliminating Korea from the semifinals in 2006 and winning this year's championship game.

Japan, which won the inaugural Classic, in 2006, finished the tournament with a 7-2 record.

"I regret a little bit that we could not win before leaving, but I know all the players did their best," third baseman Bum Ho Lee said. "So we do not have any regrets as far as our defeat. We will have the next games in four years, and I will prepare in the next four years to be able to do a lot better at that time."

The championship game was tied at 3 after nine innings, but Japan's star outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki, put away the game with a double that plated two decisive runs in the 10th.

After the game, Korea manager In Sik Kim said that the strategy against Suzuki was to throw him pitches out of the strike zone but that there was a mixup between the catcher and the signs from the bench.

"We learned a lot as a team," Kim said. "It was a great learning experience, and our players will develop, and they will come back to play again in this spot. They did very well, and I just want to thank them for doing their best."

After the defeat, Kim hinted that Bong, who gave up one run on six hits in four innings, did not feel well leading up to the game. Bong walked three batters and struck out one. He did not make any excuses for his performance.

"Although we were defeated, it was the greatest game of my life," Bong said.

The Koreans did not make it past the semifinals in 2006, but they have plenty to be proud of this time around. In first-round action in Pool A, in Tokyo, Korea defeated Chinese Taipei, 9-0, to start the tournament; lost to Japan in its second game, 14-2; and followed with a 14-0 win over China. In the final game of the first round, Korea defeated Japan, 1-0.

In the second round, at San Diego's PETCO Park, Korea beat Mexico and Japan in Pool 1 play, 8-2 and 4-1, respectively. Japan defeated Korea, 6-2, in the round's finale to earn the top seed for the semifinals.

Korea rolled through the semifinal game against Venezuela at Dodger Stadium with a 10-2 victory to set up the championship showdown with Japan.

"We did our best," Kim said. "Of course, it would have been better if we won, but I do not have a great deal of dissatisfaction."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.