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03/22/09 2:39 PM ET
Abrupt end doesn't dispirit Venezuela
Team leaves with no regrets despite screeching halt to Classic run
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Venezuela looked unstoppable heading into the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. The South American nation carried a tournament-best record of 6-1 and had an overpowering offense that was averaging more than six runs a game behind big league All-Stars such as Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Ramon Hernandez. And the team's pitching staff was equally impressive, owning a 3.57 ERA, which was inflated by the 15 runs allowed against the United States in a first-round loss. But Venezuela's tournament run seemingly unraveled in just one inning in the semifinals against Korea on Saturday. Right-hander Carlos Silva, who had allowed just one run in 16 2/3 innings in Classic play dating back to 2006 for an ERA of 0.54, was shelled to the tune of five runs in the first inning. The Venezuelans appeared shell-shocked as the team made two errors in the inning and ended up making five in the game to match their total through seven games entering the semifinal. "In the first inning, the Korean team showed they were here to play," Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. "We got the leadoff walk, and then we had [Bobby Abreu's] error and then two bloop singles. And then they got out to a 5-0 lead and basically that was the game." Just like that, the game was essentially over. And it didn't help that Silva allowed a two-run homer to Tae Kyun Kim in the second inning to give Korea a 7-0 lead. The usually potent Venezuelan offense was nowhere to be found against right-hander Suk Min Yoon, who kept the hitters off balance all night by painting the corners with his array of fastballs, changeups and sliders. "With the lineup we have, at any time we could have opened a rally," Sojo said. "But we need to give a lot of credit to Korea's pitching because they were absolutely amazing." Even though Venezuela suffered the defeat at the hands of Korea, the tournament was still considered a success for the country. The Venezuelans defeated the mighty Americans twice while also knocking off quality opponents such as Puerto Rico and The Netherlands. "I am very happy with my players' performances," Sojo said. "They played like professionals every day we came to park. And they gave their all." The players also seemed to enjoy the tournament because it enabled them to play against the best competition in the world. "This is a nice tournament," Abreu said. "I think it brings the countries together and all the fans together to see the best players fighting for their country. And I feel so proud to represent the country and to give everything to win the championship." Venezuela wasn't a lock to advance out of the first round with the United States in its pool, as well as a Canadian team with Major League All-Stars such as Jason Bay, Russell Martin and Justin Morneau. But Canada was eliminated with a shocking defeat against Italy, and Venezuela advanced out of Pool C as the top seed after defeating Team USA, 5-3. In Round 2, Venezuela caught fire by winning all three games by a combined score of 15-7 while defeating the United States for a second time to again advance as the top seed. Venezuela, however, ran into Korea, which is establishing itself as a major baseball power after posting the best overall record in the 2006 Classic and winning the gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Korea jumped out of the gates early and Venezuela's impressive run came to a surprising halt in just one inning. But as Sojo pointed out, Venezuela will have a chance to make a splash again in four years at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. "We need to get prepared, but with the way our players performed, I have no regrets," Sojo said. "Everything they did was with a lot of passion. But we do need to get ready for the next tournament because it's a very tough tournament. We need to play better next time."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.