South Korea faced Japan twice at the 2023 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC), which just concluded on Nov. 19. The results were both losses.
South Korea has felt the gap between itself and Japan in recent years. The last time South Korea beat Japan in a tournament featuring professional players was in the 2015 Premier12 final. After being shut out by Shohei Ohtani (LA Angels) in the preliminary round 0-5, Korea bounced back with a 4-3 win in the semifinals. They were down 0-3 to Oh, but rallied to win 4-3 in the top of the ninth after a pitching change.굿모닝토토 도메인
Since then, South Korea has been unable to secure a win against Japan. They did win at the Hangzhou Asian Games, but that team was led by unemployed baseball players.
The most recent meeting was a disaster. They lost 2-5 in the semifinals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and were swept 4-13 at the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC).
Starting with the Hangzhou Asian Games, the team made major changes and announced a “generational change.
With the exception of wildcards, the Hangzhou Asian Games squad had an age limit of 25 or younger or in their fourth year of professional play. As the Games were held a year later due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the age limit was also retroactively applied by one year. The APBC team was selected one year younger than that.
The APBC team aimed for experience. With the exception of Choi Ji-hoon, no wildcards were used. Choi, who was the youngest player on the WBC team, was the most experienced.
The rejuvenated team performed beyond expectations. They were relentless against Japan. The Japanese pitching staff, with their sophisticated pitches, stifled the Korean bats, but the Korean pitching staff was no slouch either. Lee Yi-ri (KIA) and Kwak Bin (Doosan) had question marks over their performances at the Hangzhou Asian Games, which just concluded in October, due to “falls” and “no-shows,” but they proved that they can be effective at the international level.
Noh Shi-hwan, the “Home Run King,” didn’t get the home run he was hoping for, but he played a pivotal role in the batting order as the No. 4 hitter, hitting one whenever he needed to.
“We played two games against Korea and we won, but it was by a very small margin,” said Japan coach Ibata. It wouldn’t have been surprising if Korea had won both games,” said Ibata. “The batsmen had sharp swings. There were a lot of things we can learn from. The pitchers had good command of their pitches and threw their changeups in the count. All four Korean starters were over 150 kilometers per hour. They brought four great players (Moon Dong-joo, Kwak Bin, Lee Yi-ri, and Won Tae-in) who are so young, and I think they will be even scarier in the future.”
Ibata also heaped praise on No. 4 Si-hwan Noh, saying, “I think the sharpness of his bat against pitcher Imai today is the best among Japanese batters.”
Ryu is looking forward to the team’s future growth. “I want the APBC to be a tournament for players to improve their skills. I hope it will be a chance for young players to improve their skills and raise the level of Korean baseball.” “Everyone is young and we changed the composition of the team. There was some awkwardness at first, but the atmosphere improved as the tournament went on. The captain, Kim Hye-sung, did a good job of leading the players. If a full-time coach is introduced, the team will have to get together frequently for training and matches, not just during competitions. I don’t know who the full-time coach will be, but I hope we will get together often.”