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SYDNEY 2000 SUMMER OLYMPICS | BASEBALL

Rookie Catcher Lifts South Korea

September 23, 2000|From Associated Press

South Korea's top rookie revived his country's medal-round hopes.

Catcher Hong Sung-heon snuffed out Japan's potential winning run with a sweep tag at home in the bottom of the ninth inning, then hit a tough-chance grounder in the 10th that led to a 7-6 victory today at Blacktown, Australia.

Hong, who was South Korea's rookie of the year in 1999 for the Doosan Bears, hit a grounder down the line that deflected off the glove of third baseman Norihiro Nakamura for a run-scoring error in the 10th. A sacrifice fly made the score 7-5.

Japan got a run-scoring single in the bottom of the 10th, but the game ended with a double-play grounder. Hong ran to the mound and jumped into the arms of reliever Jin Pil-jung.

The victory left South Korea (3-3) still in the running for a medal-round berth. Japan (4-2) finishes round-robin play with a game against Cuba on Sunday.

It was the same old story for Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who again gave a full-length performance only to watch from the bench as his team lost.

Matsuzaka, Japan's major league rookie of the year in 1999, pitched 10 innings of a 13-inning, tournament-opening 4-2 loss to the United States.

He went nine this time, leaving with the score tied at 5-5. Both teams had runners thrown out at the plate in the ninth to keep it there.

Hundreds of Koreans stood in the outfield terrace and cheered throughout, urged on by uniformed cheerleaders with pom-poms. They jumped, hugged, blew whistles and waved flags as the South Koreans hit one hard shot after another in a four-run first inning.

After a single and a walk, Kim Dong-joo--known for hitting the longest homer in Korean league history--doubled to right-center for a 2-0 lead. Kim hit one out of Olympic Stadium in Seoul this season for Doosan.

One out later, Lee Seung-yuop--Korea's version of Mark McGwire--broke an 0-for-10 slump with a first-pitch homer. Lee, a 187-pound first baseman, hit a Korean-record 54 homers last season with the Samsung Lions.

Things looked good at that moment for South Korea, which had its best pitcher on the mound. But Chung Min-tae, who'd like to play in the U.S. major leagues next season, didn't make it out of the first.

Yoshinora Okihara, an industrial league shortstop, hit his first pitch for a leadoff homer and Nakamura drove in another run with a single off Chung's right shin, just below the knee. Chung left the game and was taken for X-rays.

Japan pulled even at 5-5 in the seventh inning on a two-run single by So Taguchi, a Gold Glove shortstop from Japan's major leagues.

On Friday, Nakamura hit a two-run homer and Yukio Tanaka drove in three runs to help Japan to an 8-0 victory over winless South Africa.

Japan scored three times in the first inning.

Five Japanese pitchers gave up a total of three hits--all singles--to a lineup that has been no-hit once and shut out a total of three times while going 0-5.

*

South Africa 3, Netherlands 2--South Africa scored the winning run in the top of the 10th inning today.

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