I don't know what I can say that can add to the experience of tonight's/this morning's game. Japan and Korea played a tremendous ten-inning game that was a thrilling and fitting conclusion to the vastly improved second World Baseball Classic.
In the end, the game turned on Korean manager In-Sik Kim's decision to pitch to a suddenly hot Ichiro Suzuki with a base open and two men on with two outs and the game tied in the top of the tenth inning. Kim had righty side-armer Chang Yong Lim on the mound against the lefty-hitting Ichiro with righty-swinging Hiroyuki Nakajima on deck. Nakajima was 2-for-3 with a walk and a sacrifice and had been one of Japan's best hitters throughout the tournament, but Ichiro was 3-for-5 with a double in his last at-bat and had a significant platoon advantage against the side-arming Lim. He's also Ichiro.
Suzuki singled in both runners and Japan won 5-3, and that was that. The nine innings that preceeded that turn of events deserved a bit better than to be decided by a poor managing decision, but that doesn't erase them.
Hisashi Iwakuma was perfect for 3 2/3 innings and excellent for seven, though he wound up pitching 7 2/3. Jung Keun Bong was never excellent, but nonetheless left the game after four innings plus having yielded just one run, thus allowing just two runs to Japan in 14 2/3 innings in the tournament. Both sides made some spectacular defensive plays that kept the tight, low-scoring game from being broken open at any point. Though Korea never held a lead, Japan never led by more than two runs and Korea twice rallied to tie the game, once on a home run by Shin-Soo Choo in the fifth, and then again with a two-out RBI single by Bum Ho Lee in the bottom of the ninth.
At the end, Yu Darvish struck out five men in two innings while walking three others, first blowing the save in the ninth, then nailing it down in the tenth.
Japan now stands as the dominant team in the WBC's brief history, which will give everyone else someone to gun for in 2013. I'm just saddened by the fact that we'll have to wait four whole years to do this all again.
Thanks to everyone who followed along with these liveblogs over the past several weeks. Catch me back over on the SI.com baseball page during the regular season.
That two run lead looks huge given how scarce runs were ealry in this game, but six of the eight runs in this game have been scored since the end of the sixth inning.
Japan needs just three outs once again, and now they're facing the underside of the Korean order.
Yu Darvish is still in for Japan. It seems unlikely that he'd blow a save twice in one game.
Backup catcher Min-ho Kang leads off for Korea.
Darvish's 1-2 pitch is behind Kang's head. He then goes away with a slider, but misses to run the count full. Kang protects on a fastball up and in that might have been ball four, fouling it off. He does the same on the next, or so home plate ump Derryl Cousins believes. Kenji Johjima argues that Kang's backswing knocked the ball out of his mitt and that it was really strike three. The replay is hard to decipher, and Kang walks on the next pitch.
Jeong Choi pinch-hits for shortstop and ninth-place hitter Ki Hyuk Park, but is called out on a check swing on a slider for a three-pitch strikeout. I'm not sure he went around, but ESPN didn't show a replay.
Yong-Kyu Lee swings at the first pitch and flies out to center.
Once again, Japan is one out away from the title. Keun-Woo Jeong is the hitter.
He takes a 95 mph fastball low for ball one.
A changeup up in the zone is a called strike up and away, 1-1.
Jeong then swings through a slider away.
One more strike.
And there it is! Jeong swings through another slider and Japan repeats as the WBC champions, beating Korea 5-3 in ten innings.
What a game. What a tournament.
I'll be back in a few with some final thoughts.
The pitch that Ichiro Suzuki hit was right was right down the middle. I must agree with Joe Morgan. Chang Yong Lim shouldn't have pitched to Suzuki there.
Suzuki takes third on the first pitch to Hiroyuki Nakajima and Lim hits Nakajima with the next pitch. Things are unravelling for Lim and the Koreans.
Nakajima takes second on the 1-0 pitch to Norichika Aoki. Once again, Aoki is walked intentionally, loading the bases with two out for Kenji Johjima, who is 0-for-4 with a walk.
Johjima strikes out to end the threat, but Japan is once again three outs from the title.
After five nine-inning games, Japan and Korea remain tied in this tournament. They'll play until someone wins.
Yong-Kyu Lee movs to left. Jong Wook Lee is in center. Taek-Keun Lee is at first base.
Chang Yong Lim is still on the mound for Korea.
Seiichi Uchikawa leads off with an opposite-field single. Atsunori Inaba then bunts him to second.
Akinori Iwamura takes a 93 mph fastball at the knees for strike one. Another drifts outside for ball one. Iwamura singles to left, but Yong-Kyu Lee was playing shallow and holds Uchikawa at third.
Runners on the corners, one out.
Korea's pitching coach visits the mound. Tatsunori Hara sends up Munenori Kawasaki to pinch-hit for Yasuyuki Kataoka. Might we see a squeeze bunt here?
Korea plays the infield corners in and the middle infielders even with the second-base bag.
Kawasaki pops behind third on the first pitch. Two outs.
Now it's Ichiro Suzuki with the go-ahead run 90 feet away and two out in the tenth inning.
First pitch is ball one outside.
Lim comes set and steps off to check the runners.
A fastball with great movement is inside at the knees for strike one as Ichiro jumps backwards. Iwamura took second on that pitch, opening first base for Suzuki.
Lim keeps after Ichiro, who fouls off an outside pitch to fall behind 1-2.
Min-ho Kang calls for a pitch outside, but it drifts back, but low, and Ichiro fouls it away. I doubt Lim will purposely throw Suzuki another strike in this at-bat.
Ichiro fouls off a pitch that appeared to bounce in front of the plate.
Kang calls for a pitch up and Suzuki fouls off that one, too. That's four straight fouls. Count still 1-2.
Fastball way outside makes it even at 2-2.
On the eighth pitch, Ichiro singles up the middle. Both runners score as Ichiro takes second base on the throw home.
Yu Darvish just let Korea tie the game in the bottom of the ninth on two walks and a single by Bum Ho Lee.
Runners are on first and second with two outs for Young Min Ko, who is 1-for-3 on the night.
The Japanese outfield comes in shallow to cut off the run at the plate in the event of a single.
Darvish gets ahead quickly 0-2.
Ko then fouls off a pitch inside.
Darvish strikes out Ko on a changeup.
Extra innings . . .