Northern Marianas: Saipan Baseball League
New Zealand at the WBC in Taiwan
XINZHUANG, Taiwan -- Chinese Taipei finally found out what it was like to play nine innings in a World Baseball Classic qualifier.
After breezing through its first two games by a combined 26-0, Chinese Taipei fell just short of a third straight mercy-rule win Sunday, but a 9-0 rout of New Zealand in the qualifier finale was enough to secure a spot in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Not even a five-hour rain delay could slow down a Chinese Taipei team that was obviously on a mission after failing to earn a win during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Their losses to South Korea and China in that tourney were called a "national shame" by the local press.
Now, they have earned the opportunity to restore their name and return to public favor, team captain Cheng-Min Peng beamed after the game.
"I am very happy to win the qualifier," he said. "I attended the 2009 tournament, and now made it through the qualifier. I am very glad that the team will be back again for the regular World Baseball Classic competition.
"Our upcoming competitors will be much tougher, and we will try to ... be at our best for the next round."
Manager Chang-Heng Hsieh said that he will try to enlist Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and former Yankees and National starter Chien-Ming Wang for March's first round to boost the team's chances.
Chinese Taipei will play host to Korea, Australia and the Netherlands when the group meets at the Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in the central Taiwanese city of Taichung in March.
Chinese Taipei's triumphant journey was further aided by superior efforts from former Mariners third-base prospect Yung-Chi Chen and right fielder Chien-Ming Chang. Chen collected six RBIs with two doubles and two singles in the tournament, hitting .444. Chang also drove in six runs with two doubles and four singles.
Not to be out done by the offense, Chinese Taipei's pitching staff did not concede a single run in the qualifier.
In Sunday's finale against New Zealand, shortstop Chih-Sheng Lin's critical leadoff hits in the second and the fourth paved the way for scoring rallies, and Chang's three-run double in the fourth helped seal the victory. Chang contributed another run in the seventh with a single.
Lefty Yao-Hsun Yang of Japan's professional club Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks used an overpowering slider and fastball to notch four scoreless innings, striking out five and giving up only two hits.
During the long rain delay, Kiwi players danced to the Korean pop tune of "Gangnam Style" to entertain thousands of fans, and they threw balls to the crowd as a reward for their patient wait.
The two teams played three very tight innings in the beginning, with both starters pitching well. But Chinese Taipei struck first with a single tally in the second vs. Kiwi hurler John Holdzkom, With two on, Holdzkom suffered from a bout of wildness, hitting third baseman Yung-Chi Chen with a pitch to load the bases. Designated hitter Yi-Chuan Lin then grounded into a double-play that pushed the first run across the plate.
Holdzkom's fastball began to fail him in the bottom of the fourth. Lin stroked a leadoff double to the center, stole third and scored on a single from Chen. A steal, wild pitch, and walk later, Holdzkom was replaced by Andrew Marck, who immediately surrendered a single, two walks and a run.
With one out and bases full, Chang lined a three-run double to the left field that essentially put the game out of reach.
The game turned nasty for a brief moment when Kiwi reliever Lincoln Holdzkom hit Cheng-Min Peng on the top of his head with his pitch right after New Zealand allowed two runs with a single and a throwing error in the bottom of the seventh. Both Lincoln Holdzkom and New Zealand manager Andy Skeels were ejected from the game, as Peng was already hit once in the left shoulder by reliever Riki Paewai in the fourth and both benches had been warned.
Despite two tough losses against Chinese Taipei, previously unranked New Zealand still had much to be proud of for their showing in the qualifier. They upset a Philippines squad loaded with Minor Leaguers by a 10-6 score, and they trounced the Johnny Damon-led Thailand team, 12-2.