Samsung knocks out Hanwha in sixThe Samsung Lions relied on the KO punch to repeat as champions of the Korean Series.
That’s K, as in setup man Kwon Oh-joon and O, as in closer Oh Seung-hwan. For a series in which three games went into extra innings, including a 15-inning, 1-1 tie in the fifth game, the bullpen pitching was crucial.
Samsung won two of the games by one run, including a 3-2 win over the Hanwha Eagles in the deciding game six of the championship series on Sunday.
Kwon and Oh dominated the regular season, in which Samsung had the best record in the league, and they didn’t slow down in the Korean Series.
In the first game, the two pitchers combined for three innings of scoreless baseball, with Kwon getting three strikeouts.
Oh, who set the Korean single season saves record with 47 this year, gave up a game-tying two-run homer to blow a save in game three: It was only the second home run off Oh this year. But he was let off the hook when shortstop Park Jin-man, the Korean Series’ most valuable player, drove in a run in the top of the 12th. Starter Bae Young-soo came in to get the save.
Oh saved a thrilling 4-2 victory for the Lions in game four the next day. Two days later, he was one of nine Lions pitchers in the 15-inning draw, throwing four scoreless innings.
Oh got the save again in the deciding game six, surviving a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth by getting the Eagles’ two foreign hitters, Lou Collier and Jay Davis, to pop out and strikeout, respectively.
“I am really lucky to have two championships in the first two years of my career,” Oh told reporters in the post-victory celebration. “Compared to last year’s title [a four-game sweep of the Doosan Bears], this was more challenging, but the thought of losing never entered my mind.”
As is often the case with setup men, Kwon had been the forgotten one out of the bullpen. Until this year, when the media focused on the obscure record he set for most holds (32) in a single season, the most known fact about the 26-year-old right-hander was that he served in the Marine Corps.
But aside from his Korean Series performance ― giving up one run and striking out seven in six innings ― Kwon’s post-victory celebration must have left a lasting impression on fans.
When Oh struck out Davis to clinch the championship, Kwon, sprinting out of the dugout, beat his teammates, including the ones on the field, to the mound to join Oh and catcher Jin Kap-yong in celebration.
Just before the announcement for the series MVP was made near the mound, Kwon acted like the winner, jumping out of the lineup of players and taking off his championship cap in mock celebration. Some of his teammates and fans in the stands doubled over at the scene in laughter.
Park, the real MVP, was once again the clutch player for the Lions. He has hit in 10 of his last 11 Korean Series games, including the game-winning hit in game three this year, and did not commit an error in the series. He has won four straight Korean Series, the first two with the Hyundai Unicorns, and has six championship rings in his 11-year career, the most among active players.
The Lions signed him to a four-year, 3.9-billion won ($4.1 million) contract in the winter of 2004, after they lost to Park’s Unicorns in the Korean Series that fall. Suffice it to say, Park has lived up to his lucrative deal, the largest ever for a shortstop in Korean baseball.
“It’s a great individual honor, but everyone here played hard and deserved the award,” Park said after he was named MVP. “I wasn’t expecting that I would win, and so when my name was called, I was thrilled.”
Let his manager do the praising. “On defense, he’s simply the best there is, and he also helped with some timely hitting,” said Lions manager Sun Dong-yul. “He just knows how to play baseball. He handles different counts, knows how to read different situations, and has a tremendous feel for the game.”
The Eagles, who were seeking their first championship since 1999, have a long winter ahead to re-live several missed chances, especially the bases-loaded chance in the final game.
“I think [Oh] pitched well in that situation, but the series is over, so I have nothing left to say,” the Eagles manager Kim In-sik told reporters in his post-series press conference. “I feel that those extra-inning games could have gone either way. For next season, we want to bolster our bullpen, and add some power to our lineup.”
The Eagles suffered from lack of quality arms in what turned out to be a war of attrition. For instance, in game four, when the Lions threw six pitchers at the Eagles lineup, including starter Bae Young-soo, in the 10-inning game, Hanwha had to contend with lefty rookie starter Ryu Hyun-jin and a starter-turned-reliever Moon Dong-hwan. After game five, in which the Eagles used five hurlers, including little-used Ji Yeon-gyu and Kim Hae-nim, to the Lions’ nine, the Eagles manager Kim lamented, “Our bullpen has almost bottomed out. We only have so many pitchers to put on the mound.”
The elbow injury to veteran lefty starter Song Jin-woo didn’t help, either. He complained of pain in his pitching arm ahead of the Korean Series, and his absence forced Kim to juggle his already thin rotation.
Then there is Ryu, the triple crown-winning rookie, who did not win a postseason game. His best postseason outing came at the Korean Series’ game four, when he gave up just one run in 5 2/3 innings, but Moon, the reliever, gave up three runs to take the loss. Ryu also pitched two scoreless innings in relief in the final game.
by Yoo Jee-ho