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Roundup: Pool 2 is ripe for the taking

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  • Roundup: Pool 2 is ripe for the taking

    Roundup: Pool 2 is ripe for the taking
    Four teams at 1-1 will square off; Korea makes big statement
    By Mark Newman /

    Teams from Asia have won 25 of the last 39 Little League World Series, and that included a couple of back-to-back titles by a team from South Korea in 1984-85. For anyone who ever wondered what would happen if everyone was matched up in a grownup international tournament of the best players in the world, the results are being displayed in the first World Baseball Classic.
    Korea, behind the star of the tournament so far in Seung Yeop Lee (five homers, 11 RBIs), was left as the only unbeaten team (5-0) Monday night after its 7-3 victory over the United States and Puerto Rico's 6-0 loss to Venezuela. The Koreans, many of whom have been together since high school, probably have surprised most observers with textbook baseball that includes opportune hitting, power, error-free and splendid defense, aggressive baserunning at the right times, and fantastic pitching.

    This much is certain: You can't beat the guys in sky blue by stranding baserunners. In this second round, the U.S. team is 3-for-20 with men in scoring position. They have tried everyone in that situation except "Samurod" from the "MLB06: The Show" video game, and if you take away that Alex Rodriguez squeaker up the middle to win Sunday's game against Japan, it has been one surprising lost opportunity after another.

    Witness Mark Teixeira, who drove in 144 runs for the Texas Rangers last year, but is now 0-for-10 in this event after he crushed a monster drive just foul and then proceeded to strike out and strand a pair.

    While Korea took a giant step toward the semifinal round at San Diego, it's anyone's guess which two teams are going to advance out of the Pool 2 group in San Juan, Puerto Rico. All four teams in the Pool have 1-1 records.

    Venezuela produced its best effort of the Classic so far in blanking previously unbeaten Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic muscled up early for a 7-3 victory over Cuba. Get ready for two incredible playoff battles with Venezuela-Cuba and Dominican-Puerto Rico; winners of each game head for San Diego and the semifinal round at Petco Park.

    While Japan was idle on Monday, the dominant news story in that country was the disputed play at third base during Japan's 4-3 loss against Team USA on Sunday. Japanese baseball officials are reportedly expressing hope that any future World Baseball Classics will feature each umpire on the field from a different nation. MLB President Bob DuPuy addressed the matter in his MLBlog, noting that "the teams in the Asian pool specifically requested U.S. umpires for Round 1 in Tokyo. As we move forward with future versions of the tournament, I am sure we can incorporate more international umpires."

    Here is a look around the World Baseball Classic, while waiting for David Ortiz's home run to land somewhere in the Caribbean:

    Pool 1

    Korea 7, USA 3
    Dontrelle Willis won more games than any other Major League pitcher last season, but he was roughed up for his second consecutive World Baseball Classic outing. Lee, known as "The Lion King," certainly made another case for why he should be playing in the Majors by taking Willis deep for a two-run homer that opened the scoring at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

    Another familiar face made a big difference in this game: Hee-Seop Choi, the Dodgers' first baseman, came off the bench for a three-run homer to push Korea's lead to 6-1. Ken Griffey Jr. accounted for the only USA scoring with a solo homer and an RBI single.

    Team USA is now following its Round 1 path, when it won the opener and then lost the second game to Canada with Willis on the mound. As was the case then, the Americans will now be in must-win mode, and it means Roger Clemens is now a virtual lock to come back for the Thursday start against Mexico in hopes of being the stopper that he was against South Africa. The problem is that there's no South Africa in this group, so the United States may be in a more precarious situation than in Round 1.

    Pool 2

    Dominican Republic 7, Cuba 3
    First a word about Ortiz: That was the bravado statement of the World Baseball Classic so far. The vaunted Dominicans were facing the prospect of an 0-2 record in Round 2, and they came out and took care of business. Symbolic of that was a fifth-inning blast by "Big Papi" -- hit clear out of Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The homer came off a slow start in which he was hitting .182 entering the game, and then was retired his first two at-bats. Ortiz didn't even watch it; he turned completely around to make sure Cuban catcher Ariel Pestano knew it was departed, and then flung his bat.

    That long ball made it 6-0 in favor of the D.R., and thanks to a masterful outing by Odalis Perez (4 2/3 shutout innings), it was a one-sided affair pretty much all afternoon. Yet there was one final "gulp" heard all the way from San Pedro de Marcoris: Cuba had the bases loaded with the tying run at the plate at the end, but Fernando Rodney whiffed Joan Carlos Pedroso for the final out.

    There were 12 pitchers used in the game, and give it up for the Dominican Republic's Duaner Sanchez, the only one of them who didn't walk anyone.

    Venezuela 6, Puerto Rico 0
    Like the Dominicans, Venezuela was in a must-win situation and facing an even harder task against the previously unbeaten Puerto Rico. Carlos Zambrano was brilliant in shutting out the hosts through four, and this game came down to two big plays in both halves of the fifth inning.

    In the top half, Endy Chavez, not expected to be the big bopper for Venezuela, continued to occupy a valuable slot in the order. His two-run homer off starter Joel Pineiro broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning, extending his impressive World Baseball Classic.

    In the bottom half of the inning, Puerto Rico's Alex Cora tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt that stayed too close to the plate. Catcher Ramon Hernandez threw out Alex Cintron at second, and then shortstop Omar Vizquel, without hesitation, threw a bullet to third to nail Jose Valentin for a huge double play.

    To put an exclamation mark on Venezuela's bust-out performance, Victor Martinez,'s top-rated fantasy catcher from the Cleveland Indians, crushed a grand slam in the eighth.

    Quotable: "I was not thinking about just hitting a homer. I was just standing there thinking of the breeze." -- Chavez

    Top performers

    • Junior Griffey deserves a spot in this category, not just because he was 3-for-4 with a solo homer and RBI single for the USA, but also because he told Clemens: "You look good in a red jersey." That's what the Rocket said in his pregame press conference. Nothing like being an ambassador for the Cincinnati Reds while you're representing your country.

    • Odalis Perez, the Dominican left-hander from the Los Angeles Dodgers, shut down the upset-minded Cubans for 4 2/3 strong innings. He allowed three hits and struck out three batters during the 48-pitch effort, never allowing Cuba's offensive stars to shine or build any momentum.

    • Miguel Tejada is hitting just .235 in the Classic, but it was his two-run double in the third inning that started the key four-run inning for the Dominicans.

    • Zambrano threw four scoreless innings against a Puerto Rico club that has been tearing up everything in sight. For Cubs fans, it was just the kind of Spring Training tuneup you hoped to see. He allowed only two hits to that big-boom lineup, struck out five and walked two in a 72-pitch effort.

    • Lee continues to dominate the World Baseball Classic, parking his fifth homer and getting the respect of being intentionally walked later in the game.

    Up next:
    In addition to the televised listings below, all games can be seen live on the Internet.

    • The Dominicans and Venezuelans meet at 7 p.m. ET in Hiram Bithorn Stadium, and it's a rematch of their World Baseball Classic opener when Ortiz went deep twice to lead D.R. to an 11-7 victory. This one has huge ramifications, because Pool 2 is all knotted up with 1-1 records among all four teams. This is when you not only want to win, but you want to put as many runs on the scoreboard as possible due to possible tiebreaker needs to determine the two advancing clubs. The game is live on ESPN2, and a tape-delay replay is aired on ESPN Deportes at 10:30 p.m. ET.

    • Simultaneous to that game is Japan vs. Mexico. Every game is must-win now for both of these clubs, because each lost its opener in the second round. Japan is trying to bounce back from that heartbreaking loss to the U.S., when an apparent 4-3 lead late in the game was nullified by an appeal play in which it was determined the Japan runner tagging from third base left before a flyout was caught. Mexico was having a big tournament until Korean pitching shut it down Sunday night. The game is live on ESPN Deportes, and a tape delay will air on ESPN2 at 1:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday.

    The United States team is idle Tuesday and will work out at Cal-State Fullerton.

    Mark Newman is enterprise editor for

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