SPORTS COLUMN: The Rivalry Continues

The third World Baseball Classic will commence on Mar. 7 but is already building hype and anticipation around the globe once again. Regardless of their nationalities, many followers of baseball eagerly await the intense faceoff between Japan and South Korea. The two rival nations are known for their confrontational history that traces back to the previous century, but more recently when Korea came incredibly close to winning the finals, four years ago. With Japan winning the last two WBCs, Korea is determined to come out and stop the winning streak.

In the bottom of the ninth inning of the 2009 WBC finals, Japan was on top 3-2. With one out left, Korea had one last shot to tie with two base runners. Korea’s third baseman Lee Bum-Ho hit a line drive single in left field, which allowed pinch runner Lee Jong Wok score the game-tying run. In the tenth inning, Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki hit a single in center field, scoring two runs. Down 5-3 with two outs, Korea’s Lee Jin Young struck out, concluding the tournament with Japan claiming the championship for the second consecutive time.

The two Asian countries are known for their strong rivalry that started back in 1900s, when Japan occupied the Korean Peninsula. Their unpleasant history created a strong and ubiquitous hostility between the two nations. For example, in the 2012 Olympics, Korea and Japan were pitted against each other for the bronze medal in soccer. The tensions between the teams were so intense that a total of seven yellow cards were given throughout the match. In the end, Korea prevailed 2-0 with goals from forwards Park Chu-Young and Koo Jacheol.

Korea and Japan currently stand 5-5 in WBC games, with many of the games being decided in the last inning. Both rosters boast few players who had played in the Major League, although these athletes previously played professionally in the U.S. In the last two WBCs, Japan had stars like outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, one of the greatest hitters to play, and starting pitcher Yu Darvish, one of the best pitchers in the MLB. However, theses stars will not be present for Japan, which will be a disadvantage for it.

Although Korea also has no superstars, the team has always found other ways to win against different nations like Mexico and Venezuela. The players have always been known to be error-free on defense, perfecting every play and every move to complement their exceptional pitching. In the 2009 WBC, they were first in ERA with 3.00 and were second with 65 strikeouts, trailing Japan’s 75. Even though Korea did not have many sluggers and lacked size, it still managed to become the top team in runs batted in and was fourth in homeruns.

Winning the WBC means everything for both countries. It will bring pride and honor to each respected nation and the players will be considered heros for their actions.