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SKorea

SKorea Wins Little League World Series Championship

by JAMES S. KIM

It’s called Little League, but if the 2014 Little League World Series tournament showed us anything, it’s that there’s nothing small about the heart, hard work and sportsmanship these kids bring to the ballpark.

With his team down 8-1 in the top of the sixth and final inning of the World Series championship game on Sunday, Illinois pitcher Trey Hondras nailed South Korea’s Dong Wan Sin in the helmet with a pitch. As Sin made his way over to first base, Hondras went over to apologize to the player, and the two competitors shook hands.

South Korea would go on to win the game 8-4 and capture the 2014 Little League World Series championship—their first since going back-to-back in 1985, but it was moments like this one that stood out during the tournament.

A day earlier, South Korea knocked out Japan, the reigning World Series champions, in dominant fashion, 12-3. After Japan won their third-place game against Nevada before Korea and Illinois took the field, many of the Japanese players stayed to cheer on Korea, donning blue shirts with the South Korean flag on them. You probably won’t ever see that outside of Little League.

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Sunday’s game wasn’t as much of a cakewalk for the South Koreans, but it was still more of the same: dominant pitching and a rock-steady offense. They led the game from the start, plating their first run on an RBI double by Jae Yeong Hwang in the first inning. After Korea scored another in the top of the third, Illinois finally got themselves on the board with a run in the bottom of the inning off of pitcher Jae Yeong Hwang.

In the top of the sixth, South Korea doubled their 4-1 advantage by scoring four runs, capped by Hae Chan Choi’s home run. They would need every single one of them, because as it goes in Little League, there is no such thing as too much offense–until the mercy rule takes over.

Illinois made things interesting in the final inning, knocking two straight base hits off of Choi, who had taken over pitching duties. With runners on second and third with one out, Darion Radcliff singled in both, and a hit and two passed balls allowed another to score.

Choi struck out Brandon Green, and after walking the next batter, he finally got clean-up hitter Ed Howard to ground into a force out to secure the win and championship.

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After the celebrations were said and done, the players from both teams lined up to shake hands. And to start off the line was an awkward, yet probably one of the more heartwarming handshakes you will ever see.

Bat flips, home runs and all that stuff aside, that’s pretty cool.

Images via ESPN

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SKorea Wins Little League World Series Int’l Championship Over Japan

by JAMES S. KIM

Twice is just as nice for South Korea, as they defeated Japan 12-3 to secure the Little League World Series International Championship in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That makes it consecutive wins against Japan during the 2014 tournament, and South Korea now advances to the World Series Championship game on Sunday.

The two best international teams were set to play a highly-anticipated rematch, but South Korea made things look easy against the reigning Little League World Series champs.

After both teams went scoreless through the first two innings, the South Korean offense roared to life in the third, plating seven runs. Hae Chan Choi knocked in a two-run double, and Dong Wan Sin cleared the bases with a hit that ricocheted off pitcher Joichiro Fujimatsu and went into left field.

Choi and Yoo Jun Ha both homered in the top of the sixth to only add insult to injury, putting the game well out of reach.

Despite losing to South Korea on Thursday, 4-2, Japan kept themselves in the tournament following that loss by beating up on Mexico, 12-1, in an elimination game on Friday. However, that offense was nonexistent on Saturday as the South Korean pitchers once again nullified the Japanese offense. Jae Yeong Hwang capped a perfect two innings to begin the game, and Japan was kept to just one hit through four innings.

South Korea is now 10-0 all-time in the Little League World Series, winning the championship in their only two appearances in 1984 and 1985. They will face Illinois, who beat Nevada 7-5 later in the day. The game will take place tomorrow at 12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET on ABC.

Photo via ESPN

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SKorea Beats Japan, Advances to Int’l Championship in Little League World Series

by JAMES S. KIM

The South Korean Little League World Series team is headed to the International Championship game after edging out a very strong Japanese team 4-2 Wednesday in .

The matchup of the top two international teams did not disappoint. World Series defending champion Japan came in with a dominant pitching staff, while South Korea came in boasting one of the top offenses in the tournament thus far.

Scoreless into the third inning, pitcher and first baseman Choi Hae-chan helped his own cause with a two-run home run to right center field to give Korea the lead. Japan responded immediately by tying the game with two runs of their own in the bottom of the third, one off a sacrifice fly by Shingo Tomita and another off a wild pitch.

Both teams remained scoreless until the top of the sixth (the final inning per Little League rules), when Hwang Jae-yeong lifted a solo homer to score the game-winning run off of Suguru Kanamori. Sin Dong-wan added an insurance run with a double to center field.

In the bottom sixth, Hwang Jae Young struck out the first two Japanese batters before giving up a single. The next batter, Kanamori, flied out to center field to end the game.

South Korea now holds a 9-0 Little League World Series record, while Japan broke its 12-game win streak.

Japan isn’t completely out of it as it will play Mexico tomorrow for a chance to get back into the International Championship game on Saturday, where South Korea awaits.

At the time of publication, the top two U.S. teams are set to slug it out in an highly-anticipated game, featuring a potent offense in Nevada and the superstar Mo’ne Davis-led Pennsylvania team.

The winner of the International Championship will face the winner of the U.S. Championship game, also Saturday, for the World Series Championship game on Sunday.

Meanwhile, you can watch a couple of South Korea’s spectacular bat flips from the tournament. Mind you, they’re both on flyouts.

Photo courtesy of Korea Little Baseball Association

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In First Start, Darwin Barney Plays Key Role In Dodgers’ Win

Darwin Barney, Los Angeles Dodgers’ mid-season acquisition this summer, got off to a strong start this week, playing a vital role in his new team’s 4-2 win Wednesday over the Atlanta Braves.

In the infielder’s first start for the Dodgers, Barney gave the team an early lead by looping a single to right field to score Justin Turner in the second inning. With the Dodgers clinging on to a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, Barney hit a playable ground ball to shortstop Emilio Bonifacio, but took advantage of the latter’s error and reached second base. After Adrian Gonzalez advanced him to third, Barney’s all-hustle base-running gave the Dodgers a much-needed insurance run after he scored on a wild pitch by David Hale.

“I’ve been watching [the Dodgers] from the other side for a long time, and we’re very versatile on offense,” Barney, who was traded from the Chicago Cubs two weeks ago, told MLB.com. “A lot of guys can hit the long ball obviously, and when a guy is pretty effective [like Braves' pitcher Mike Minor], we got our hits and got the job done.”

A former Gold Glover at second base, Barney also showcased his ability to cover much ground and helped the Dodgers with a few big defensive plays.

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The Kansas City Royals’ Biggest Fan Is From South Korea

by STEVE HAN

When the Kansas City Royals invited their superfan Sung Woo Lee from South Korea, neither the team nor the man himself expected that his 10-day stay would be this special.

The Royals went on an eight-game winning streak since the day Lee landed in Kansas City, a streak which allowed them to overtake the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central. Lee, seeing his favorite team in person for the first time, tossed the ceremonial first pitch at Monday night’s game and has become something of a celebrity amid the outpouring of Midwestern hospitality.

Lee, who has never visited the U.S. before the Royals flew him in last week, traces back his fandom to the early 1990s, when he caught baseball highlights on Korean TV, which aired CNN’s sports news segments every day. Lee told MLB.com the Royals’ “beautiful K” on their hats “caught my eye,” and from then on would lend his unconditional support of the perennially underachieving franchise, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1985 in the early 1990s after watching baseball.

Thanks to the Internet, Lee became an active member of the Royals’ online community and met local fans in Kansas City. Those locals, who’ve kept in touch with Lee for years, are the ones who launched a campaign to fly him in from Korea with the hashtag #SungWooToKC on Twitter.

“The dude is just diehard, and he never has a bad word to say about us, even when we were at our lowest of our low, and I was just really happy and honored to meet him,” said Royals pitcher Danny Duffy.

Set to return to Korea tomorrow, Lee has been embraced by the Royals community, which welcomed him with customized gifts and barbecue tailgate feasts in his honor.

“That’s just a credit to this whole community, this whole town,” Lee said, according to the Kansas City Star. “It’s just been this giant hug from this town. It’s been viral and insane.”

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Angels’ Hank Conger Says Team Needs to ‘Refresh,’ Rebound From Tough Freeway Series

In a preview of what may be a potential World Series matchup, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim wrapped up perhaps the most anticipated Freeway Series in years with the Boys in Blue taking the series against the Halos three games to one. Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu anchored the final game with a dominating start, shutting out the Angels for seven innings and giving up only two hits and walking one batter.

The lopsided 7-0 victory for the Dodgers bookended the four game set in which Game 1 easily went to the Angels, 5-0, while Games 2 and 3 were both nail-biting, one-run affairs that went to the Dodgers. Angels catcher Hank Conger sat out Thursday’s game after starting Games 1 and 3, and he watched from the bench as Ryu sliced and diced his way through the Halos lineup.

“Going into the series, I think the biggest thing that stood out for [the Dodgers] is their pitching staff,” Conger told KoreAm. “We knew that they had good pitching, we knew it was going to be a battle each game. They put up a fight, and we weren’t able to get the bats going.”

Conger didn’t get to face Ryu Thursday night–manager Mike Scioscia prefers to start him against right-handed pitchers–but he’s no stranger to seeing Ryu pitch well against his team. In his last start against the Angels in 2013, Ryu pitched a complete game shutout, striking out seven and giving up only two hits in a 3-0 Dodger win.

“He’s definitely stifled us a couple of times,” Conger said. “He really just manages all his pitches. He has a lot of good pitches–a really good changeup, curveball, he’s very deceptive out of the windup and stretch. He does a really good job of controlling counts and putting away hitters.”

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Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches against the Angels. Image via OC Register

Ryu had a no-hitter going into the fifth inning, until David Freese ripped a one-out double off the right field wall. The Angels failed to capitalize, as Ryu induced a groundout and a strikeout to end the threat.

Yasiel Puig made the play of the night in the bottom of the sixth to help preserve Ryu’s shutout. With Mike Trout on third and Albert Pujols on second with two outs, Puig made a leaping catch at the left-centerfield wall to rob Josh Hamilton of extra bases, preventing any runs from scoring.

On the other side of the card, Angels starting pitcher C.J. Wilson took the mound in his second start since coming off the disabled list. Coming into Thursday, the left-hander was coming off a disturbing trend for the Angels: 25 earned runs in his last five starts, and 37 hits in 18 innings.

Wilson kept the Dodger bats quiet through the first two innings, getting a clutch double play in the second, but Hanley Ramirez lined a one-out, bases loaded single to center field to begin the scoring. Adrian Gonzalez followed up with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.

While Ryu maintained his pace, Wilson was able to roll along until the sixth inning, when Juan Uribe ripped a double to center field, scoring Matt Kemp. Wilson then walked opposing catcher A.J. Ellis, and his night was done.

“Even though [Wilson] gave up four runs today, I thought from previous outings he made a big adjustment as far as commanding the strike zone,” Conger said. “But as a catcher, you really just try to calm him down, slow things down as things progress. [You] just really try to have him focus on the pitch rather than things that are happening overall.”

It’s a role and skill Conger has been able to hone during his major league career, securing him in an effective platoon role along with fellow catcher Chris Ianetta. When your manager was a multiple All-Star catcher, the standard is set quite high. Conger’s weak defensive skills nearly cost him his job in 2012, but he’s come a long way in patching up those shortcomings.

In particular, one aspect was building a solid rapport with Angel pitchers. The relationship between the pitcher and catcher is a symbiotic one.

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Angels pitcher Garrett Richards and Hank Conger hold a discussion on the mound in Monday’s game against the Dodgers. Image via Los Angeles Times

“I know it sounds cliché, but it really is true that working with the pitchers, talking to them, making sure they feel comfortable every time they step on the mound is really the focal point for me,” Conger explained. “Whether the pitch is executed or whatever happens during the game … as a catcher, you really have to make sure your pitcher is comfortable on the mound, at ease when you’re calling pitches or knowing that you can block a baseball.”

While the Dodgers look to continue their hot play against the Milwaukee Brewers tonight, the Angels will host the Boston Red Sox for the weekend. It’s an important series, as the Angels haven’t lost three consecutive games since losing four in a row in early June.

“It’s been rare for us to lose a series,” Conger said. “We’ve been playing great baseball, we just have to refresh things. … It starts with our preparation, slowing it down and finding our scouting reports and starting from there.”

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Korea’s Team Handily Advances to Little League Baseball World Series

by TONY KIM

They did it. After handily winning the Asia-Pacific Little League Championship title, posting five shutouts in the process, South Korea’s Little League team is heading to the World Series.

Following a dominating performance against Hong Kong, beating the team 11-0 in the finals on July 6, the Seoul Little League now heads to the 68th Little League Baseball World Series, which will take place in South Williamsport, Pa, between Aug. 14-24.

This marks only the third time that a Korean Little League team made it to the World Series, last appearing in 1985. For the two years the Seoul Little League did make it to the championships, however, it captured the title both times.

The Korean team, which dominated its regional competition, allowing just two runs in six games, will battle the Czech Republic in the first round.

Sixteen teams are participating in the World Series, and they are divided into the United States bracket and the international bracket. The U.S. teams have not yet been determined, as the regional tournaments have not yet concluded. The eight international teams competing at the tournament will be Korea, Australia, the Czech Republic, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

The Little League World Series only allows players between the ages of 11 and 13. Teams play in double-elimination matches, and the winners from each pool will face each other in the championship in a single-elimination in its bracket to advance to the finals.

The opening game of the World Series will be on Aug. 14, at 1 p.m., with the final championship game scheduled for 3 p.m. on Aug. 24, airing on ABC. All games in the Little League Baseball World Series will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks, the Watch ESPN app or ABC.

To see the Seoul Little League capture its regional title, see below. Fast forward to 17:50 to see Korea start to widen the gap in the score.

Photo via Little League

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Infielder Darwin Barney Joins Dodgers

by STEVE HAN

The Los Angeles Dodgers has acquired second baseman Darwin Barney, who was designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs last week. A Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner at second base in 2012, the Asian American ballplayer is expected to add depth to the Dodgers’ infield as a utility man.

The Dodgers will send a player to be named later, likely a minor leaguer, or cash considerations to the Cubs in exchange.

Barney has also played third baseman and shortstop in the last five seasons he spent with the Cubs. The Dodgers are thin on middle infielders behind starters Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Justin Turner, as bench player Chone Figgins is on the disabled list with a hip injury.

The 28-year-old is a standout defender at second base. His fielding percentage eclipsed the .990 mark in each of the last five seasons. His acrobatic defensive plays have made highlight reels several times over the years on local sports TV and ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Despite his defensive prowess, Barney has failed to impress as a hitter. His career batting average is just at .244 with 18 home runs. His struggles at the plate became worse this year as he is only hitting .230, but the Dodgers will remain hopeful that he can continue his moderately successful streak against National League opponents. He is hitting .273 average in 107 games against NL West opponents.

Barney, who identifies himself as one-quarter Korean, one-quarter Japanese and half-Caucasian, grew up in Beaverton, Oregon. His maternal grandmother is Korean, and his maternal grandfather is Japanese, though he once told an interviewer that he used to think he was Hawaiian. He talks about his background with interviewer Rick Quan in this 2011 video posted by Hyphen Magazine: