“I made a lot of mistakes in defense and missed balls at the plate”
After winning the gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games (AG)토토사이트 and completing the feat of “four in a row,” Ryu Jung-il arrived home on Monday at Incheon International Airport. The fans who had gathered to celebrate the baseball team’s gold medal were cheering wildly, and Ryu was one of the first to leave the arrivals hall, greeting the fans and basking in their joy.
As with any international competition, the Hangzhou Asian Games has been full of twists and turns. Few games went as planned. South Korea opened with a 10-0 cold-game victory over Hong Kong in the first game of Group B, but it took until the eighth inning for the much-anticipated bats to come alive and produce a shutout.
But then something unexpected happened. Kwak Bin, who was expected to start against Chinese Taipei, the tournament’s most feared opponent, was unable to take the mound due to gallbladder symptoms in his back, but the team was not without options. Coach Ryu Jung-il started Moon Dong-ju, who had been the best pitcher in the pre-departure trials, against Chinese Taipei, but the result was shocking.
Moon Dong-joo held the Chinese Taipei bats to just two runs (two earned) in four innings of work, but the bats, which hadn’t been hot since Hong Kong, ran into trouble. The Koreans were unable to muster a single run as they were held in check by Double-A pitcher Lin Yi-min, who is ranked No. 4 on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ prospect list. A “misjudgment” in the process deepened the deficit, and they were held scoreless until the end of the game, losing 0-4.
Korea went from a 1-1 record to a 17-0 victory over Thailand to qualify for the Super Round, but the loss to Chinese Taipei left them with one loss to play for. The good news was that Korea defeated “nemesis” Japan 2-0 in the first game of the Super Round, and with Chinese Taipei defeating China the same day, Korea only needed to beat China to advance to the gold medal game. They did just that with an 8-1 thrashing of China.
They were ’embarrassed’ in the group stage, but not twice. Moon Dong-ju, back in the middle of the order, pitched a quality start (6 innings, 3 earned runs or less) against the Chinese Taipei bats to set the stage for victory. The Koreans struck first with two runs in the second inning off Lin Yumin in the pouring rain. After Moon Dong-joo, Korea brought in Choi Ji-min (1 inning), Park Young-hyun (1 inning), and Ko Woo-seok (1 inning) to protect the two-run lead and finally win the gold medal.
While the result – a fourth consecutive Asian Games title – could not have come at a better time, the entire tournament left something to be desired. Not only did they lose to Chinese Taipei in the group stage, but they also failed to show the gap between themselves and the ‘professionals’ in the super round against Japan, a team composed entirely of ‘socialites’. In addition, even though they won the final game, they were held to two runs in nine innings by two pitchers who play in Double-A, a minor league affiliate of the major leagues.
Head coach Ryu Jung-il, who returned home via Incheon International Airport on Aug. 8, acknowledged that the tournament was not easy. “The players suffered too much,” he said, “and we had a lump in our throat because we won the gold medal so hard. There was an age limit, and the power was a little weak. The fans were worried about whether they could win the gold medal, but the players worked hard and won the gold medal.”
Recently, Korean baseball has struggled in international competitions. Prior to the Hangzhou Asian Games, the last time the team won a title or gold medal was at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games. South Korea’s last international victory or gold medal came at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where they took home a bronze medal, and at the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), where they were eliminated in the group stage for the third consecutive time.
The country’s international competitiveness is far from where it was when it won the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and lifted the trophy at the WBSC Premier12 in 2015. Even taking into account the variability of short-term games, the team’s recent international performance has been disappointing. We can no longer ignore teams like Australia and Chinese Taipei, who were previously considered ‘underdogs’.
Coach Ryu Jung-il was also wary. “We won the gold medal,” he said, “but the level of baseball in other countries has risen a lot. Japan is basically a good team even if it’s social baseball, and Taiwan’s pitching, defense, and hitting are better than they were about 7-10 years ago. I think we have to be careful going forward.”
Ultimately, in order to perform well in international tournaments, it is essential for the players in the KBO to improve their skills. They have to put everything they have into every at-bat, every ball, and not take every play lightly. Coach Ryu Jung-il also pointed this out. Although he is happy to be back after winning the gold medal, he expressed his thoughts as a baseball player.
“We need to prepare from now on,” Ryu said. If you look at the KBO League right now, there are a lot of mistakes in defense. There seem to be more misses at the plate as well. I think we need to reduce these things more and more,” he said emphatically. In his short time in charge, when he held national team training at Gocheok Sky Dome, he directly coached the players in center field, pointing out problems and giving advice.
Still, he was not without a “future” in leading the young players. “The pitching is good,” he thumbs up. But the players were vocal about the need to improve. It’s clear that it’s not time to be satisfied with the results.