A three-run homer by Byung-Ho Park capped a five-run fourth inning as South Korea rolled past the United States, 8-0, to claim the inaugural Premier 12 baseball championship in front of 40,411 fans at the Tokyo Dome.
For South Korea, the victory marked their first global baseball title since the 1982 Baseball World Cup hosted in Seoul. The championship comes on the heels of a gold medal at September's Asian Baseball Championship. As in September, South Korea needed a furious ninth-inning rally to upset Japan in the penultimate game. Seven innings of one-hit ball by Japanese ace Shohei Otani had the visitors facing elimination, down 3-0 with three outs to go. But six straight batters reached base for South Korea, with Dae-Ho Lee's line drive single into the left field corner bringing in the tying and go-ahead runs.
South Korea's final two wins avenged their only losses during the initial round-robin stage. There, South Korea opened the tournament by falling 5-0 to Japan at the Sapporo Dome and 3-2 to the U.S. in a 10-inning affair at Taipei's Tien-Mou Stadium.
Even without the use of any player on an MLB 40-man roster, the Americans finished second at the event. It was their first medal at an international baseball championship since winning the 2009 Baseball World Cup in Nettuno, Italy; the U.S. has not finished higher than fourth at the first three World Baseball Classics. Rockies farmhand Matt McBride led all qualified hitters, batting .526 in his five games.
At the same time he was getting big hits in Taiwan and Japan, Park was making a big hit in the States. The Twins announced Nov. 9 that they posted a $12.85 million bid with Park's KBO team, the Nexen Heroes, to negotiate a contract. (The Heroes were also the KBO home of Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang.) The 29-year-old's feast-or-famine reputation was on display at the tournament: in 26 at bats, Park hit .192 and struck out eight times but also collected a double, a triple, and a home run*.
* - But what a home run. Go to about 2:10 in this video.
Tournament favorite Japan was led by a pair of NPB aces starting to generate interest across the Pacific. Shohei Otani, a 21-year-old righty with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, took the ERA and strikeout crowns by throwing 13 scoreless innings and striking out 21 of the 43 batters he faced. ESPN's Jim Caple reports Otani touches 100 (and doubles as an outfielder), but the young flamethrower is probably a few years away from posting. That means American audiences will most likely next see him at the 2017 WBC.
Just behind Otani on the leaderboard was Hiroshima Carp's Kenta Maeda. The 27-year-old right hander is expected to be posted in the next few weeks and has already drawn significant interest from the Diamondbacks. In 12 innings at the Premier 12, Maeda struck out 14 and allowed two earned runs, with hitters posting a paltry .205 average against him.
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South Korea and Japan (who beat Mexico 11-1 to claim the bronze medal) gained the most ground in the rankings. The Dominican Republic, who went winless without their MLB talent, fell from third in our rankings to seventh. And Italy (who also went 0-5) lost fewer points but fell behind Australia and Panama.
But the biggest surprise of all -- at least to Harold Reynolds -- is your new number one. Buoyed by their undefeated run through the round-robin stage (and aided by their gold medal at the Pan-Am Games this summer), Canada leapfrogged the Cubans, Dominicans, and Americans to claim the top spot. And with the international baseball calendar more or less wrapped up, that means the Canucks will have bragging rights until at least next spring.
Lastly, it's only fair that I close with a look back at my predictions. I compared my win probabilities to the money lines available through OddsPortal.com. Starting with a (fake) bankroll of $10,000, I used the Kelly criterion to determine how much to bet on each game, using the closing lines as my benchmark.
The game-by-game results are above, and they're not pretty. I found myself unsuccessfully backing a lot of heavy underdogs, and relying on teams playing without their MLB talent. Combined with my earlier calibration test, it counts as more evidence that I should have a wider spread between teams: underdogs win less often than I predict, which means I need to adjust the weights I assign to events.
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Bryan Cole is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score who took this whole experience as yet more reinforcement never to gamble. You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.