Who’s the small ball now? ‘Infinite bunt’ was Korean, not Japanese


South Korea played baseball obsessed with one run. They played tactical baseball, as if scoring the first run would end the game. Japan was the opposite. They played as if a bunt with the bases loaded was unthinkable.

South Korea won 2-0 against Japan in the baseball super round of the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games on Friday at the Xiaoxing Baseball and Softball Center Baseball Field 1 in Xiaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China.

Conscious of Japan’s lack of a strong batting lineup, South Korea walked the bases loaded several times. They also bunted several times. The Japanese, who are considered the “small ball” team, didn’t do any of those things, and instead showed a lot of grit, as if they were going to defend their baseball even if they lost.

In the fourth inning, with the score tied at 0-0, Choi Ji-hoon hit an infield single to load the bases. The very next batter, Yoon Dong-hee, stepped up to bunt. Yoon, who had laid down two sacrifice bunts in 100 games this season, hadn’t quite gotten the job done off the bench. But it worked out for the better. He hit a single to right-center field, sending Choi Ji-hoon from first base to third.

The next batter, Noh Si-hwan, struck out. The bench seemed to get more impatient as the fourth batter couldn’t solve the runners on first and third. The fifth batter, Moon Bo-kyung, laid down a bunt. Choi Ji-hoon, who was at third base, stopped, and Yoon Dong-hee was thrown out at second base.

“It was a little unfortunate that we couldn’t score with runners on first and third in the fourth inning,” said manager Ryu Jung-il after the game. “When Noh Si-hwan struck out, we had runners on first and third, but I was worried about a double play, so I had him steal. The defense did a good job.” The bunt was a deceptive move.

The back-to-back hits put runners on first and third with no outs, but a strikeout and a failed pickoff attempt left them on second and third. Moon hit a hard line drive to the pitcher, but it was blocked by Japan’s Shuichiro Kaga. The ball bounced off her glove and she caught it before it hit the ground.

In the very next inning, the leadoff batter walked. Kang Baek-ho singled to center field, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Kim Joo-won stepped up to the plate and changed his stance to bunt.

Unlike Yoon, he was able to get the ball rolling. However, not all bunt attempts result in runners advancing. The ball rolled hard toward the pitcher, and Gayo caught it and threw to second base. Her throw to second base was faster than Kang Baek-ho’s feet. South Korea’s plan was foiled again.

There was no follow-up hit. In the bottom of the first inning, Kim Hyung-joon and Kim Sung-yoon struck out in succession. Korea didn’t score a run against Japan until the fifth inning, but they didn’t score a run either.

Still, the runs came after a bunt. South Korea got its first chance to score in the sixth inning when Kim Hye-sung led off with a double. Choi Ji-hoon followed with a bunt that put runners on first and third. The bench’s obsession with one run was reaffirmed. Noh Si-hwan scored the first and final run of the game with a sacrifice fly to left field.

In the ninth inning, Choi Ji-hoon laid down a sacrifice bunt with the bases loaded. With two outs, Noh Si-hwan hit a two-run single to center field to give Korea the lead.

Japan played the exact opposite of Korea. They had three leadoff singles in the fifth inning against Park Se-woong, but the next three batters all went deep. In the first inning, Naoya Mochizuki struck out with the bases loaded.

In the fourth inning, with nobody out, No. 4 hitter Tatsuhiko Sato struck out. In the fifth inning, with Musa on first, Jin Nakamura reached on a grounder to the second baseman. It wasn’t a hit to load the bases, but a hit for a run, and second baseman Kim Hye-sung made a good catch.캡틴토토

The ninth inning was no different. Japan had runners on first and second with no outs after an error and a hit by pitch. Masashi Maruyama hit a grounder to the second baseman to put runners on first and third. There were still chances, but Kohei Sasagawa grounded out to second base to end the game.

Japan manager Akio Ishii had already declared his intention to play a hard-hitting, long ball style of baseball in June at a standing army training camp. “We want to see what kind of baseball we can play in the national team,” he said, “and in the batting order, we will try to hit long balls and score a lot of runs (in an inning).” In the tournament, he hasn’t laid down a sacrifice bunt in four games across the group and super rounds.

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