Pitcher Kazuto Taguchi and catcher Shogo Sakakura of Japan celebrate after winning the Asia Professional Baseball Championship game between Japan and South Korea at Tokyo Dome on November 17, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
Japan improved to 2-0 at the 2023 Asia Professional Baseball Championship and beat South Korea 2-1 in front of 35,223 people at the Tokyo Dome Friday.
Japan will play in the gold medal game on Sunday at 4 a.m. EST at the Tokyo Dome against the winner of Saturday’s game between Chinese Taipei and South Korea. Japan is aiming for their second consecutive APBC championship in the history of their nation.
Japan’s pitching staff faced 34 batters, allowing five hits, one earned runs, one walk, and 10 strikeouts during Friday’s win. Starter Chihiro Sumida threw seven innings with 77 pitches, facing 24 batters and allowing three hits and seven strikeouts.
South Korea’s pitching staff faced 33 batters and allowed nine hits, three walks, and six strikeouts in Friday’s loss.
First baseman Shugo Maki grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded, allowing center fielder Yuki Okabayashi to scamper home with the game’s first run for Japan.
Japan added another run when right fielder Chusei Mannami led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a solo home run over the center field wall to extend the lead to 2-0.
South Korea manager Ryu Joong-il lifted starter Eui-Lee Lee after he tossed six innings with 96 pitches and faced 24 batters, allowing two earned runs, six hits, three walks, and three strikeouts.
In the top of the ninth inning with Japan holding a two-run lead, Kazuto Taguchi replaced Rikuto Yokohama on the mound with the opportunity for a three-out save.
Taguchi faced his third batter of the inning with two outs, and South Korea pinch hitter Kim Hwi-jip lofted a solo home run over the left field wall to cut the lead to one at 2-1. Taguchi got the next batter, South Korea shortstop Kim Juwon, to strikeout swinging for the final out of the game, earning Japan a berth into the gold medal game for the second time at the APBC.
Japan will aim for their second championship during 2023 as they previously won the 2023 World Baseball Classic in March, beating the United States 3-2 in the championship game at loanDepot Park in Miami. Japan also won the bronze at the 19th Asian Games in early October, beating China 4-3 at Shaoxing Baseball and Softball Sports Culture Center in Hangzhou, China.
The APBC U-24 event will not count towards the World Baseball Rankings through the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
Japan, at 2-0, will play Australia, 0-2, on Friday at 10 p.m. EST at the Tokyo Dome in the final game of the opening round of the 2023 APBC.
South Korea, at 1-1, will play Chinese Taipei, also 1-1, on Saturday at 5 a.m. EST at the Tokyo Dome with the winner going up against Japan in the gold medal game on Sunday at 4 a.m. EST.