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S. Korea beats Cuba in 2nd straight exhibition baseball game

Feb. 26, 2017 - 20:57 By 신현희

South Korea rallied to defeat Cuba 7-6 in their exhibition game on Sunday ahead of the World Baseball Classic.

The home team erased a 3-1 deficit in a six-run seventh inning to beat Cuba for the second straight day at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. On Saturday, South Korea prevailed 6-1.

South Korea will host Pool A action in the first round against Israel, the Netherlands and Chinese Taipei, starting on March 6.

Cuba will face Japan, Australia and China in Pool B play in Tokyo.

The team's next exhibition game will be against Australia at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, back at the dome.

South Korea managed just six hits in two practice games earlier this month in Okinawa, Japan, against two Japanese pro clubs, the Yomiuri Giants and the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. In the two games against Cuba here, South Korea pounded out 20 hits.

Of the nine hits on Sunday, Son Ah-seop, batting sixth for the second straight game, had four. He hit a solo home run on Saturday and was 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored on Sunday.

South Korean starter Yang Hyeon-jong allowed two runs on four hits in three innings. He touched 146 km/h with his fastball but had trouble commanding his breaking balls.

He got himself into a jam with two outs in the first, with a walk and a double. He got William Saavedra to ground out to third to escape the jam.

After a three-up, three-down second inning, Yang gave up two runs in the third.

Yoelkis Cespedes led off the frame with a triple, and Roel Santos drove him home with a single to left.

Yang retired the next two batters, but then Alfredo Despaigne hit an RBI single to make it 2-0 Cuba.

South Korea was held in check by Cuban right-hander Vladimir Banos, who held the opponents to a run on three hits in 4 2/3 innings while striking out six.

South Korea's first run came in the fifth on a double by Lee Yong-kyu.

Two South Korean relievers held Cuba off the board in the fourth and fifth, but Chang Si-hwan gave up a two-out single to Frank Morejon for a 3-1 Cuban lead.

But South Korea put up a six-spot in the seventh on five hits and three walks.

Son led off the inning with a double. After a walk, pinch hitter Yang Eui-ji hit a grounder to shortstop Yordan Manduley, who sprained his ankle trying to make the play and made a bad throw to second.

That allowed the lead runner to score for South Korea, now with men on second and third with nobody out.

Lee Yong-kyu's single made it a 3-3 game, and Park Sok-min followed that up with an RBI double for a 4-3 South Korean lead.

With the bases loaded later in the inning, Min Byung-hun hit a sacrifice fly for a 5-3 cushion. After a walk loaded the bases again, Son knocked in two more runs with a single.

Cuba got a run back in the seventh on a single by Frederich Cepeda. With two outs and a man on in the ninth, South Korean reliever Won Jong-hyun gave up a triple and then a double to let Cuba cut the deficit to 7-6 before slamming the door shut.

South Korean manager Kim In-sik said his team still has plenty of work to do.

"Of all the pitchers we've faced so far, Banos threw the sharpest slider and cutter," Kim said of the Cuban starter. "We couldn't hit him early in the game."

On the mound, pitchers will have to start throwing strikes early in the count, Kim said.

"Yang struggled because he couldn't throw first-pitch strikes,"

the manager said. "When he was behind in the count, he left his breaking balls in the strike zone, and the hitters jumped on them easily."

Cleanup hitter Choi Hyoung-woo, who finished second in the Korea Baseball Organization MVP voting in 2016 with gaudy power numbers, still doesn't have a hit after four exhibition games. But the manager said he hasn't lost faith in him.

"He's always batted in the heart of the lineup with his club," he said. "He may not have a hit yet but he's coming around."

Choi won the KBO's batting title with a .376 average, and also led the league with 144 RBIs, 195 hits and 46 doubles. He belted 31 home runs for his third consecutive 30-homer season. (Yonhap)