Lee getting rave reviews inside JapanThe World Cup in Germany may have grabbed all the recent attention from sports fans, but a hot streak by Lee Seung-yeop, first baseman for the Yomiuri Giants in Nippon Professional Baseball, is noteworthy.
Through Monday, Lee ranked in the top five in the league in all of the major offensive categories, except steals. He leads the Central League in home runs with 23 and is fourth in runs batted in, with 51. His .331 average, .640 slugging percentage and 83 hits all rank him among the league’s top hitters.
Yet it’s not just his power numbers that are drawing rave reviews in Japan. His baseball smarts have made him a valuable player for the Giants.
In a game Sunday against Rakuten Golden Eagles, Lee hit his 23rd homer in the bottom of the second inning. He hit a single in his next at-bat.
Then in the sixth, with runners on first and third with two outs and the Giants trailing 2-1, Lee, the cleanup hitter, laid down a bunt toward third base. Rakuten’s defense had shifted to the right side of the field against the left-handed hitting Lee, so by the time the third baseman Jose Fernandez got to the ball, Lee was on first base.
The problem was that the play surprised not just the Golden Eagles’ infield, but also Lee’s teammates. Takahiro Suzuki, the runner on third on the play, failed to run home for what would have been the tying run.
The Giants wound up losing, 2-1.
After the game, Giants manager Tatsunori Hara told reporters he didn’t call for the bunt, but acknowledged the play was “certainly a great way to try to score” and called the idea “brilliant.”
Hara also blamed Suzuki for failing to stay alert.
Suzuki was contrite afterward, saying, “I was just numb out there. I was totally unprepared. I am really sorry.”
This season, Lee has told the Japanese media that he would “be prepared to do whatever it takes to help our team win.” Early in April, he attempted a sacrifice bunt in a game. After fouling off his attempt, he promptly drilled a single.
Lee’s last successful sacrifice bunt came in June of 2004, when he was playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines.
by Yoo Jee-ho
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