In the cruel world of sports, especially international competitions where more than the outcome of the game is at stake, those who are directly involved often either become national heroes, or national scapegoats if things do not pan out the way they had hoped.
That could not be more true for Kuo Hong-chih, who gave up the game-winning home run to South Korea in the final game of first round of Pool B of the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday evening with the entire country watching.
It could have been a perfect storybook finish for the hosts, who led 2-0 through the seventh inning before Kuo dropped three runs in the bottom of the eighth in a losing effort, but they still managed to make it to the second round as the Pool B winners with a 2-1 record
It turned into a disappointment that continued Taiwan’s losing streak in international baseball competitions to South Korea, now an alarming eight and counting.
“It’s all part of this great game we play I will have to learn to move on just like everybody else,” Kuo said as he was getting ready to leave for the second round in Tokyo at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport yesterday morning, as a big crowd of supporters cheered him and the rest of the team.
Even though the easiest way to identify what went wrong is to point a finger at Kuo, the former Los Angeles Dodger closer, who had already proven himself in the Major Leagues and had pitched two perfect eighth innings in Taiwan’s two wins against Australia and the Netherlands earlier in the competition, it would be a terrible mistake to do so.
Instead, the attention should shift to South Korea’s Kang Jung-ho for his incredible swing at a pitch from Kuo that was shin-high and down-and-in, a location that was as close to being perfect as it could be.
Another question one could also ask is what would have happened had the loss to South Korea come before Taiwan’s 8-3 come-from-behind win over the Netherlands, when the hosts would have needed to beat the Netherlands in order to advance into the next round.
Would the entire country be on its feet lauding the team for such a dramatic triumph instead of second-guessing the All-Star crew that has been assembled and billed as arguably Taiwan’s most formidable ever?
An answer to that question could come with a win or two in Tokyo.
“Victory in Japan is the only goal on our mind,” national team coach Hsieh Chang-heng said prior to the team’s departure.
Hsieh said he remained confident in his players, despite the heartbreaking loss to South Korea.
“I feel some regret over our inability to beat South Korea, but I remain confident in our players’ ability,” Hsieh said.
Hsieh said former New York Yankees ace Wang Chien-ming, who pitched six scoreless innings in Taiwan’s 4-1 victory over Australia, is set to start the second-round opener against either Japan or Cuba.
Wang, who recorded 19 wins in 2006 and 2007 with the Yankees, said he is still coming into form.
“I’m not yet in regular-season form, but I’m in good shape now and will do my best in Japan,” Wang said.
Currently a free agent after the Washington Nationals did not tender him after last season, Wang is hoping for another solid performance on Friday to impress scouts from several major league teams that are reportedly looking at signing him, including the Yankess.