Regardless of the size of the competition, the Korea-Japan game always gets everyone’s heart racing, so it’s especially meaningful to be the starting pitcher in the Korea-Japan game. This time, it’s up to Lee Yi-ri, a “third-year pitcher” who needs to continue the lineage of left-handed aces in the KBO.
The national team, led by Ryu Joong-il, will play the second game of the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 qualifier against Japan at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. It will be the first time the national team has faced Japan in about eight months since the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March.
The APBC is a tournament with a lot of young players, so all the teams are focused on growth rather than performance, but as the game is against Japan, there will be a lot of fan interest in the outcome. The coaching staff had been thinking long and hard about the starting lineup before and after the national team was called up, and their choice was left-hander Lee Yi-ri.
Lee joined KIA in the first round of the 2021 draft and quickly adapted to the professional game, becoming a mainstay in the KIA starting lineup as they reached the 10-win plateau for the second straight year last year and this year. In his three-year career, Lee has a record of 76 games, 380⅓ innings, 25 wins, 22 losses, and a 3.83 ERA. In his last appearance at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March, Lee pitched ⅓ inning of scoreless baseball, striking out three and walking one.
His regular-season numbers were good enough to earn him a spot on the national team for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, but something plagued him as he headed into the tournament. Injury.굿모닝토토 도메인
In the midst of a full regular season schedule, Lee complained of shoulder pain after his start against the Suwon KT Wiz on August 22. A medical examination revealed a simple inflammation of the shoulder blade. The injury wasn’t severe enough to require him to miss a rotation, but it did raise concerns for Lee.
After recovering and returning to the starting lineup in early September, Lee was pulled from the lineup just two games later. This time, it was a blister on his finger. On September 9, Lee started the second game of a doubleheader against the LG Twins at Gwangju-KIA Champions Field, and after throwing 4⅓ innings, he was unable to continue pitching due to a callus on his left middle finger.
After taking the mound for the first time in 12 days, Lee was pulled after just 1⅓ innings against the Hanwha Eagles in Daejeon on Sept. 21. The national team kept a close eye on Lee’s condition, with head coach Ryu Jung-il personally visiting the baseball field that day, but he was unable to resolve his concerns before the national team was called up. On the 22nd, Lee received a call-up notice from the national team and was replaced by outfielder Yoon Dong-hee, who was unable to attend the Hangzhou Asian Games.
Coincidentally, Lee acted like it was no big deal and pitched well in every game, going the full five innings in all four games after being dropped from the national team. In a home game against the Samsung Lions on October 9, he struck out a whopping 10 batters. Some criticized the team’s decision to leave Lee off the roster just before the tournament, and in many ways, it was a difficult time for the athlete.
About a month later, she received her call-up. “The coach asked me if I was sick, and I said I was fine. “After the season is over, if I don’t get injured in the tournament and continue to show good form, I think I will be able to play for the national team later, and I think it will be a good result,” he said.
At the official press conference after the first qualifying game against Australia on the 16th, Ryu Joong-il said, “He is the best left-handed pitcher in Korea, and there are many left-handed hitters in the Japanese team in general. If my pitches are good, I think I can keep them at bay,” he said, hinting at his expectations for Lee.
Japan, who will have to face Lee, is also determined to win the Korea-Japan game. Japan warmed up with a 4-0 win over Chinese Taipei in the first round of qualifying on Saturday. After being held hitless through five innings, they scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh and sealed the win with three runs in the top of the ninth.
“I think we can win if we hit like we did against Chinese Taipei,” said Japanese manager Hirokazu Ibata at a press conference after the game, according to Japanese media outlet Sportichi Annex. “Japan Baseball started the year by winning the WBC in March, and we want to end it by winning the APBC. I would like to ask for a lot of support for the Korea-Japan game on the 17th and beyond.”
The Korea-Japan game is more than just a game, it’s an event. It will be interesting to see if Lee can fulfill his role in a game with more pressure than ever before