Ailing stars no bar to Lions’ roarYang Jun-hyuk, the cleanup hitter for the Samsung Lions, the Korean baseball league leaders, was enjoying a rare day off last Friday, when the Lions were playing against the Doosan Bears in Jamsil, southern Seoul.
The 37-year-old Yang could use a break anyway. The Lions, defending champs, entered the game 7.5 games ahead of the second-place Hyundai Unicorns, and with only about 30 games remaining in the season, were all but assured of another trip to the playoffs. They could surely afford to rest their top hitter.
But with the score tied at 2-2 in the top of the 8th inning with two Lions runners on base at two outs, Yang was summoned as pinch hitter for right fielder Kim Chang-hee. He drilled the second pitch fastball from the Bears’ reliever Jung Jae-hun off the foul pole in right field to give the Lions a 5-2 lead.
The shot vaulted Yang to the top of the league’s runs-batted-in chart with 66, and Samsung scored four more runs in the top of the ninth inning to romp off with a 9-2 win.
“It was a pressure-packed situation, and I had to really concentrate,” Yang told Yonhap after the game. “I wanted to be aggressive, and it was kind of cool hitting a home run as pinch hitter.”
It was the first pinch-hit homer in 12 years for Yang, who is Korean baseball’s all-time leader in hits, doubles, runs scored and walks. He is second in career RBI and third in home runs.
The way things have gone for the Lions this year, the team would still have scored a run in the same situation with a minor league call-up, instead of a living legend like Yang.
After all, this is a team that is among the league leaders in doubles, runs scored and slugging percentage, even though slugger Shim Chong-soo has only played 12 games because of a shoulder and a knee injury. Former closer Lim Chang-yong hasn’t pitched all season, after an off-season elbow surgery, but sophomore Oh Seung-hwan has more than filled the void, leading the league in saves with 35. The Lions are the second in team earned run average at 3.32 through Monday.
Through Monday, the Lions had a 57-34-3 record, seven games up on the Hanwha Eagles.
And yet the Lions’ good fortune took a bit of a blow on Sunday, when manager Sun Dong-yeol essentially ruled out Lim’s return to the lineup this year.
Right-handed Lim, coming off a Tommy John surgery, or a reconstructive operation, in his pitching elbow, began suffering from recurring pain in June, and hasn’t thrown a ball since.
He began his rehabilitation work in January and had been trying to return to the club in early September.
“I think October may be the earliest that he can begin throwing again,” Sun told local sports daily Sports Khan on Sunday. “But even then, he would be nowhere near game condition and we wouldn’t put him in game situations like that.”
Sun, a former pitcher himself, then said, “We will play the rest of the year as if Lim were never on this team.”
Meanwhile, Shim is aiming for a comeback in September after surgery on his on left shoulder and right knee in June. He has reported no major trouble in his rehab work so far.
by Yoo Jee-ho