Unexpected performances, unexpected results. The much-talked-about Hangzhou Asian Games (AG) was not without its share of harvest. Korea found its ace in the hole and its finisher.
South Korea defeated Japan 2-0 in a fateful rivalry matchup at the Hangzhou Asian Games 2023 Super Round on Friday at the Shaoxing Baseball and Softball Sports Center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China.
After finishing second in the group stage, South Korea could have easily missed the final. However, after beating Japan, Taiwan won 4-1 against China, and Korea’s chances of reaching the final skyrocketed. At least for now. A win over China on Saturday would set up a revenge match against Taiwan in the gold medal game, while a loss would set up a bronze medal match against Japan.
The Hangzhou Asian Games was a very important international tournament for many reasons. South Korean baseball has lost its competitive edge in recent years. The team suffered a “no-medal” finish at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March this year, they were eliminated in the group stage for the third consecutive tournament.
It was a far cry from the ‘sweep’ at the Beijing Olympics and the gold medal at the Asian Games. The results were bad, but the process was even worse. The recent Tokyo Olympics and WBC were full of incidents both on and off the field. At the Tokyo Olympics, Kang Baek-ho sparked public outrage when he chewed gum in the middle of the bronze medal game as he was losing, and at the WBC, he was thrown out after hitting a double and performing a ceremony.
It didn’t stop there. Shortly after the WBC, it was revealed that several players on the team had been drinking before the game. The shocking result of being eliminated from the qualifiers and the revelations of the players’ misbehavior caused outrage among baseball fans and the public at large. That’s why the outcome of the Hangzhou Asian Games is so important. A gold medal is essential.
In fact, the story so far hasn’t been pretty. The team is composed of players under the age of 25 and in their fourth year in the organization, and their performance has not met expectations, starting with the first game against Hong Kong. While the pitching staff was solid, they struggled to capitalize on the ‘underdog’ Hong Kong mound, which led to a shocking result the next day.
The team went 0-4 against a Taiwanese prospect in Double-A Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization. South Korea advanced to the Super Round with a 17-0 sweep of Thailand, but it was clear that their performance against Japan on the fifth was not up to par. They struggled to capitalize on the Japanese mound, which was largely composed of “unemployed” players. However, it was not a completely fruitless game.
Korea has the resources to provide an ace and a closer for years to come. Park Se-woong and Park Young-hyun. Park Se-woong started the game and pitched six innings of two-hit ball with two walks and nine strikeouts, while Park Young-hyun came in as the closer and threw an incredible 156-kilometer fastball to earn a two-inning save.
Park Se-woong, who had been trying to make the Hangzhou national team by delaying his entry into the mercantile game, has had a rough start to the season. He went 1-0 with a 5.12 ERA in four starts in April, and his chances of making the Hangzhou national team looked bleak. However, he bounced back in May with three wins and a 1.88 ERA in five games, and continued to perform well enough to earn a spot on the national team via the wild card.
Park has worn the Korean flag three times before the Hangzhou Asian Games, and his performance at the international level has been nothing short of spectacular. At the Tokyo Olympics, he pitched in four games (3⅔ innings) out of the bullpen, posting a 2.45 ERA, and at the WBC, he came out of the bullpen to save the day against Japan in a ‘cold game’ situation, and then had his best performance against the Czech Republic, striking out eight in 4⅔ innings.
At the time, a reporter from ‘Full Count’ asked Park to name the player who stood out the most among the Korean players, and the pitcher didn’t hesitate. He said, “He had good control and good pitches, especially his slider against the Czech Republic. I wasn’t too impressed with his performance at the Tokyo Olympics. But it was definitely different at the WBC,” he said with a thumbs-up.
His international record before the Asian Games was very good, with one win and one loss in seven games and a 1.42 ERA. However, he was not recognized as an ‘ace’ because he was overshadowed by players with bigger names. However, this tournament proved that Park can be trusted to be the number one starter in the Premier12 and WBC in 2024.
Park wasn’t the only one to reap the rewards. Young-hyun Park, KT Wiz’s first pick in the 2022 rookie draft, was also a standout. Park earned his first Korean flag this year with a 3-3 record, 32 strikeouts, four saves, and a 2.82 ERA in 67 games, including two saves in the group stage and a two-inning save against Japan with a 156-kilometer fastball.
Commentator Lee Dae-ho, who has been labeled “Korea’s No. 4 hitter,” said, “I’ve become a fan of Park Young-hyun. He still needs to gain more experience and show more consistency, but there’s no doubt that he’s showing that he’s worthy of being left at the tailgate.스포츠토토
The only way for them to shine is with a gold medal. First of all, the deck was stacked in Taiwan’s favor. It remains to be seen if they can beat China on the 6th and win the revenge match against Taiwan to create a best-case scenario.