Samsung Lions take on Japan’s Hawks tonight
The Lions, this year’s champion in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), booked their slot to the Asia Series final by edging home crowd favorite Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) 6-3 on Sunday, while the Hawks, who have this year’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) title, passed the round-robin stage with a perfect 3-0 win-loss record to earn home advantage in the final.
The championship game will be held at 8 p.m. Korea Standard Time at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in Taichung City, Taiwan. The winner will claim 15 million Taiwanese dollars ($493,672).
The Lions suffered a 9-0 shutout against the Hawks on Saturday, but manager Ryu Joong-il claimed the defeat against the Hawks in the qualifying stage was just part of his strategy, exploring the Japanese clubs’ tactics.
“I’m sorry to fans that we got a big loss against the Hawks, but it was all planned,” Ryu said to Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper, after the game on Sunday. “In the final, we will put our best effort in to beat the Hawks.”
Ryu said that he will play Jang Won-sam as the starting pitcher and send all of their bullpen pitchers on the mound if necessary, a similar strategy that the team used in the Korean Series against Incheon SK Wyverns.
Regardless of their performance, the Lions didn’t allow their starting pitchers to pitch more than five innings in the KBO championship series as other bullpen pitchers were relayed to contain the opposition early in the game. Their victories were sealed by closer Oh Seung-hwan who has the Asian record in saves with 47.
With other top starters such as Cha Woo-chan, Yoon Sung-hwan and foreigners Justin Germano and Doug Mathis out of the tournament due to injuries and personal vacations, Jang is the only remaining starting pitcher in the Lions’ original five-man rotation lineup. The 28-year-old southpaw went 8-8 with a 4.15 ERA this season due to injury, but showed a solid performance against the Perth Heat of Australia on Friday, collecting 10 strikeouts in six innings while allowing two runs.
“This is our last game this season,” Jang said. “I will pitch with my best effort.”
The Hawks are expected to match Jang against Tadashi Settsu, who went 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA in the NPB this season. The 29-year-old right-handed pitcher hasn’t featured in the series yet, meaning he should be fresh. The Lions also have to be aware of the fast feet of the Hawks’ players as the team surrendered seven stolen bases in Saturday’s game.
But Ryu claimed that this time it will be different as lefty Jang will have the advantage of holding runners on first base and is well trained to defend against steals.
If the Lions claim victory against the Hawks, it will be the first time in history for a KBO club to win the title, as Japanese clubs have swept the last four tournaments. The team reached the final in 2005, but lost 5-3 to the Chiba Lotte Marines.
Meanwhile, next year’s Asia Series will be held in Korea and the KBO said that it is considering expanding the tournament by inviting six teams. This year, the champions from the KBO, NPB, CPBL and Australian Baseball League (ABL) took part, but the KBO said it is planning to bring the all-star team from the Chinese Baseball League (CBL) and the runner-up in the Korean Series. The KBO added that Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul will be the main venue of the tournament.
By Joo Kyung-don [email@example.com]