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Saturday December 2, 2006

Asian Games: Late home run gives Japan win over South Korea


DOHA, Qatar (AP): A three-run home run by Hisayoshi Chono in the bottom of the ninth inning gave Japan a 10-7 win over defending champion South Korea in Asian Games baseball Saturday. 

The win set up a possible gold medal showdown between the all-amateur Japanese and a Taiwanese team which includes several U.S. major league players. 

South Korea, which has won gold in the past two Asian Games, took an early lead when third baseman Lee Dae-ho hit a home run off Japan's Satoshi Komatsu with two runners on base. 

The Koreans added on another run to make it 4-0, but Japan came right back, scoring five runs in the bottom of the inning, two on a home run by first baseman Yasuyuki Saigo. 

Takashi Yoshiura then homered in the fourth inning to put Japan ahead 7-4. 

After a run in the fifth inning narrowed Japan's lead to two, the Koreans rallied in the eighth, with a single by shortstop Park Jin-man that drove in a run, and another by leftfielder Lee Byong-kyu that evened the score at 7-7. 

With two men on base, Lee Dae-ho then gave the Japanese a scare with a powerful fly that came down just short of the fence. 

With one out and the bases loaded, Oh Seoung-hwan struck out Kei Nomoto and Keiji Ikebe popped up for an easy out to keep Japan scoreless in the eighth. 

Hideto Isomura, pitching from the eighth inning, held off the Korean batters in the ninth, and an error by Lee Byong-kyu allowed Japan to put runners on first and second. Chono then brought them in with his home run. 

"The wind helped the ball go over the fence,'' Chono said. "It was the first time I've hit the winning home run.'' 

Pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, who at 19 is the Korea Baseball Organization's rookie of the year and most valuable player of 2006, started for the Koreans, but was pulled out after the third inning. 

Saturday's game was billed as a rematch for the South Koreans, still stinging from the pounding they got by the Japanese at the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March, when Japan drubbed South Korea 6-0 at the semifinals and went on to defeat Cuba in the final. 

But neither team is the best their countries have to offer. 

Unlike its big-name World Baseball Classic lineup, Japan's team is made up college and industrial league amateur players, and the South Korean squad also doesn't include any of Korea's players in the U.S. major leagues. 

The lack of major leaguers from Japan and South Korea makes Taiwan the favorite for the gold. 

The Taiwan team, with Los Angeles Dodgers' teammates Kuo Hong-chi and shortstop Hu Chin-lung, beat South Korea 4-2 in their opening game on Friday. Japan, meanwhile, cruised to a 17-2 victory over the Philippines. 

Taiwan and Japan are scheduled to play each other in the final game of the competition on Dec. 7. 

There are six teams participating in the games' baseball competition _ Japan, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea. The medal winners are decided based on the results of the 15 round-robin games. 

Taiwan took silver in the Busan Asian Games in 2002, and Japan settled for bronze.

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