Lions crowned king after thrashing BearsThe 2005 Korea Baseball Organization season wrapped up last Wednesday with an overwhelming four-game Korean series sweep by the Samsung Lions against the Doosan Bears. It was the second time the Lions took the Korean championship, and they pounded the Bears, 24-5.
Behind such resounding success ― the Lions were also the regular season champs ― were a legendary pitcher-turned-first-year manager and a rookie pitcher who wasn’t even a mainstay on the team until July.
For all their off-season transactions, including making lucrative multi-year deals with two key free agents, a former 50-home run slugger Shim Chong-soo and all-around shortstop Park Jin-man, the most significant move the Lions made over the winter was promoting Sun Dong-yol from bench coach to new manager.
When he was in his prime with the Haitai Tigers (now owned by Kia), Sun was unhittable, posting an earned run average of below 1.00 in two seasons as a starter and in two other seasons as a closer. The three-time regular season most valuable player could have been a daunting presence in the dugout for both veterans who have faced his brutal fastballs and young players who grew up idolizing him in the late 1980s.
Although not all great athletes turn out to be equally effective head coaches, Sun has obviously pulled off the transition: he is the only manager in Korean baseball to win the regular season title and the Korean Series championship in his first season.
Any doubts about Sun, 42, vanished early, as the Lions got off to a solid start with a 15-8 record in April, the season’s first month. The team struggled briefly in June, but from July 2 to the end the last game of the season, it never relinquished first place.
Through the ups and downs of the 126-game regular season and then the playoffs, Sun received help from a most unlikely source: Oh Seung-hwan, a 23-year-old rookie out of Dankook University.
With the incumbent Kwon Oh-joon struggling, Oh was promoted to the team’s closer in July. He rose to the challenge, notching 16 saves to go with 10 wins, a 1.18 ERA and an impressive 115 strikeouts in just 99 innings. His fastball reaches a scorching 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) per hour, and his sturdy 178-centimeter (5-foot 8-inch) frame, weighing in at 92 kilograms (202 pounds), can hurl a nasty slider. But his most mind-boggling stat is his ERA for his 11 games in August ― zero.
His prowess on the mound led to him being voted the Korean Series’s most valuable player. A right hander, Oh appeared in three games, winning one and saving another without giving up a run, while striking out 11 batters in seven innings. Oh is the first rookie to be named Korean Series MVP since Lee Jong-beom of the Tigers in 1993.
Oh is the odds-on favorite to win rookie-of-the-year honors, and is also on the shortlist for regular season MVP candidates. He could become the first Korean baseball player to capture both the top rookie award and MVP in both the regular season and the Korean Series, a feat even his manager never accomplished.
by Yoo Jee-ho
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