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WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

South Korea teams up to rout Venezuela, 10-2

A Korean squad with only one major leaguer on its roster uses teamwork to dominate a star-studded opponent and reach the World Baseball Classic final at Dodger Stadium.

March 22, 2009|Kevin Baxter

When South Korea's World Baseball Classic team held its first workout last month, there was little need for introductions. Many of the players had competed with or against each other since grade school -- something that will happen when you grow up in a country that has fewer high school baseball programs than the city of Los Angeles.

But while the Koreans were familiar with each other, everything they knew about Saturday's WBC opponent they learned from TV.

"I only saw Carlos Silva a couple of times on television," Manager In Sik Kim said of Venezuela's starting pitcher. "I don't know anything more."

Whatever the Koreans learned from watching cable they put to good use Saturday night, battering Silva for seven runs and six hits in less than two innings and rolling to a methodical 10-2 win in a WBC semifinal played before a largely pro-South Korea crowd of 43,378 at Dodger Stadium.

South Korea advances to Monday's WBC title game, against the winner of tonight's semifinal between the U.S. and defending champion Japan.

By now, South Korea's baseball success comes as no surprise. Since 2000, it has won silver medals in the World Cup and Intercontinental Cup and a bronze in the Olympics before capping it all off last summer by going unbeaten in Beijing to capture its first Olympic gold medal in baseball.

It has done that by building a national program that values teamwork and continuity over raw talent. Sixteen players on the country's WBC roster were also on the gold medal team in Beijing. And seven played in the first WBC in 2006, when South Korea finished third.

Yet just one player on this year's team was considered good enough to merit a contract with a major league organization. Venezuela, by contrast, had 22 U.S. professionals, including eight big league All-Stars, on its roster.

And that one Korean major leaguer, Cleveland outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, entered Saturday's semifinal with just one hit in the tournament.

"As a major leaguer myself, I can say the Korean players and the Japanese players are excellent," Choo, speaking through an interpreter, said after the game. "There is not that much difference. The teamwork was the best. That was critical. My teammates helped me very much."

Choo made sure his second WBC hit counted, belting a long three-run home run to center field to key a first-inning rally Saturday in which his team sent 10 men to plate, scoring five times, before Silva retired his second batter.

Another long homer, a two-run shot by left fielder Tae Kyun Kim, made it 7-0 three batters into the second. The rout was on and Silva was gone.

It became hard to tell which team was the one built around major league talent and which was the one made up of friends from high school.

Venezuela made four errors in the first four innings and a WBC-record five on the night, and its pitchers walked eight batters and hit another. On the other side, Ki Hyuk Park -- the only starter without a hit, run or RBI -- was turning in highlight-reel plays at shortstop for South Korea, which turned two nifty double plays and gave up just one walk.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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