A good pitch, a bad hitter

With the bases loaded and the count already at 92, left-hander Lee (21-KIA) threw a fastball clocked at 151 kilometers per hour. Two batters into the bottom of the sixth inning, he threw a strike to Japan’s No. 6 hitter, Jusei Mannami, and then followed it up with a 150 mph fastball. At a point in the game where both his power and velocity were dwindling, he threw everything he had left. After eight pitches, the result was a grounder to second base. Lee walked off the mound with the final out against Mannami, who had hit a solo home run against him in his previous at-bat.

It was a remarkable comeback pitch for the Japanese, but the offense couldn’t break through.

The Korea National Baseball Team, led by Ryu Jung-il, fell 1-2 to Japan in the second game of the 2023 Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) Qualifier at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on Sunday. Lee Yi-ri threw 96 pitches in six innings, allowing two runs on six hits (one home run) with three walks and three strikeouts, but the offense was shut down by a perfect game from Japanese left-hander Chihiro Sumida. The Koreans were held scoreless on four hits until pinch-hitter Kim Hwi-jip hit a game-tying solo shot with two outs in the top of the ninth.

It was Lee’s day, and he was unfazed by the one-sided support from the 30,000-plus fans in attendance. He was shaken, but he didn’t break down and kept his pace. After giving up a walk to Japan’s leadoff man Yuki Okabayashi in the bottom of the third inning, Lee gave up a single and a walk to load the bases. Shugo Maki, the reigning Nippon Professional Baseball Central League batting champion this season, induced an infield grounder to extend the count to two outs and then struck out Teruaki Sato to end the threat with only one out.

Lee gave up a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning when a fastball he threw to the first batter, Mannami, sailed up the middle, but he didn’t give up any more runs before being replaced by Oh Won-seok in the seventh. The pitching performance erased the disappointment of being cut from the final roster for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games in September. He also erased the bad memories of his relief appearance against Japan at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March this year, where he pitched 0.1 innings of three-hit ball with one strikeout. He proved that he is a worthy successor to Bong Joong-geun, Kim Kwang-hyun, and other seniors who have always pitched against Japan.

But Japan had better pitchers. Sumida, a fastball and changeup starter, shut down Korea with seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball, striking out seven. The Japanese pitchers’ combination of fastballs and well-controlled change-ups was one of the best in the APBC, even with the younger generation, and Korean hitters were unable to handle it.

Top hitter Kim Hye-sung was the only Korean to record a “multi-hit” game. Yoon Dong-hee, who was batting third in the order, failed to produce a hit in this game as she did the previous day against Australia. The silence in the batting lineup since the Australia game has made it clear that the Korean national team, which is on a path of ‘generational change’, has its work cut out for it.

With a win over Australia and a loss to Japan, South Korea is 1-1. They will need to win their third game of the preliminary round on Monday against Chinese Taipei, who are also 1-1, to advance to the final.