By Yoo Jee-ho
TOKYO, March 13 (Yonhap) -- Even after his South Korea destroyed China 22-2 in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) Monday night, manager Lee Kang-chul had nothing to smile about.
That's because South Korea had already been eliminated in the first round hours before playing China at Tokyo Dome. Earlier in the day, Australia defeated the Czech Republic 8-3 to grab the second ticket to the quarterfinals out of Pool B, joining Japan.
In order for South Korea to make the quarterfinals on a tiebreaker, the Czech Republic had to defeat Australia while allowing at least four runs, and South Korea had to beat China in the nightcap.
The Czechs put together a late rally and even had a tying run on deck with one out in the bottom ninth before falling short.
South Korea ended up in such a precarious situation, having to rely on help from other teams, after dropping the first two games in Tokyo. It lost to Australia 8-7 and then to Japan 13-4, largely due to some horrible relief pitching.
A 7-3 win over the Czech Republic and Monday night's rout weren't nearly enough.
"I'd like to thank the fans who came here to cheer us on tonight, even though we were already eliminated," Lee said. "I'd like to send my sincere apology to fans back home. The players worked really hard for this tournament, and they did their best. We ended up with this result because I wasn't good enough as manager."
South Korea has now crashed out of the first round at three consecutive WBCs, having already done so in 2013 and 2017. The country finished third at the inaugural event in 2006 and then second in 2009.
Lee said the key difference between those glory years and the recent downturn lies in pitching.
"Back then, we had clear ideas who could start and who could pitch in middle relief," Lee said. "This year, I think pitchers performed more poorly than position players. I should have established a definitive starting rotation, but I wasn't able to settle on starters."
To capitalize on major league talent under loose WBC eligibility rules, South Korea selected half-Korean star for the St. Louis Cardinals Tommy Edman for the tournament. Though his defense as a Gold Glove winner came as advertised, Edman didn't contribute much at the plate, batting 2-for-11 with two RBIs.
Lee said he held Edman out of the starting lineup Monday out of precaution due to some minor physical issues.
"The players all got along great, and there was no issue whatsoever as far as teamwork is concerned," Lee said of having a foreign-born player of Korean descent. "It's just that we didn't get the results we wanted."