The Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) National Team lost but fought well against Korea. With the team’s mound holding the Japanese bats to two runs, Kim Hwijip came to the plate and hit a solo home run over the Tokyo Dome wall against the best closer in Nippon Baseball Professional (NBP).

On Nov. 17, the Korean National Team faced Japan in the second game of the APBC Qualifier at the Tokyo Dome, losing 1-0. With a 1-1 record in the tournament, Korea must win the third game against Chinese Taipei on Nov. 18 to advance to the finals.

South Korea started with Lee Yi-ri on the mound. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning, Lee struck out Sato and Mannami with a swinging strikeout and a fly ball to center field, respectively, to prevent a run from scoring.

After the first triple in the bottom of the second, Lee worked around two walks and a hit batter to load the bases in the top of the third. Irie induced Maki, the No. 4 hitter, to hit a grounder to shortstop that scored a run. After retiring Sato on a swinging strikeout, Irie did not allow another run.

After being held in check by Sumida through three innings, South Korea had a chance in the top of the fourth when leadoff hitter Kim Hye-sung led off with an infield single, her first hit of the day. Noh Si-hwan followed with a single to left to put runners on first and second, but Moon Hyun-bin grounded out to the pitcher to end the threat.

Lee gave up another run in the bottom of the fourth inning when he gave up a big, 125-meter solo home run to leadoff hitter Mannami.

After that, there was a lull for both teams. Lee got off to a quality start, allowing two runs on six hits with three strikeouts and three walks in six innings.

Korea fought back in the top of the eighth, putting runners on first and second with a walk to Choi Ji-hoon and a single to left by Kim Hye-sung. However, Korea was unable to capitalize as Kim Do-young struck out swinging and Yoon Dong-hee grounded out to the second baseman.

In the final at-bat, it was Kim Hwijip who saved Korea’s pride. In the top of the ninth inning, Kim, who came to bat for the first time in the tournament as a pinch-hitter, took a five-pitch fastball from Daguchi on a 3B-1S count and blasted a 110-meter solo home run to left field. Although the next batter, Kim Joo-won, struck out swinging and ended up losing the game, Kim’s home run completed the picture of “Korea losing the game.

Best of all, Kim’s home run came against one of the best closers in the NPB. The 1995-born left-hander went 3-5 with a 1.86 ERA in 50 appearances and 33 saves for the Yakult Swallows in 2023. Notably, Daguchi gave up just two home runs in 2023. Against one of NPB’s best closers, Kim Hwi-jip hit an exhilarating home run over the Tokyo Dome wall.

If Korea wins against Chinese Taipei on the 18th, they will play Korea again on the 19th in the final game of the tournament. With a chance to avenge a one-run loss, Kim could be the key to putting pressure on the opposing closer. All eyes will be on Kim for the rest of the tournament.

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