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(2nd LD) Past two champions to collide in S. Korean baseball final

All Headlines 15:08 October 23, 2012

(ATTN: ADD managers' comments, details, MINOR EDITS throughout)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) -- The past two champions of South Korean professional baseball will clash in the this season's final for the third straight year.

Defending champions, Samsung Lions, will host the SK Wyverns Wednesday in Daegu to open the championship Korean Series in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

The Lions knocked off the Wyverns in five games last year. In 2010, the Wyverns swept the Lions in four games to take their third championship in four seasons.

This matchup marks the first time in the league's 30-year history the same two teams will have squared off in three straight Korean Series. The Wyverns have a 10-9 edge in their head-to-head meetings during the season.

The Lions finished with the best regular season record and earned the bye to the Korean Series. They last played on Oct. 6, the final day of the regular season.

The Wyverns, which ended in second place behind Samsung, advanced straight to the second round of the playoffs and eliminated the Lotte Giants in five games on Monday. They have Tuesday off before resuming their quest for the championship Wednesday.

The Lions' will start right-hander Yoon Sung-hwan in the first game. He was 9-6 this season with a 2.84 earned run average (ERA), the best mark in the team's rotation. In three games against SK this season, he won twice with a 3.00 ERA.

The Wyverns will counter with right-hander Yoon Hee-sang, who went 10-9 with a 3.36 ERA in the regular season. He pitched four games against Samsung and was 1-1 with a 0.99 ERA.

The Lions had a slow start but cruised from July and on, never relinquishing the top spot after July 8. On paper, they have the complete package.

With the league's best earned run average (ERA), the Lions boast four starting pitchers with at least 10 victories, led by left-hander Jang Won-sam with the KBO-best 17 wins. Closer Oh Seung-hwan topped the league with 37 saves.

On offense, they put up the best team batting average and scored the most runs. In the heart of their order, Lee Seung-yeop, veteran slugger in his first years back from a stint in Japan, and Park Seok-min combined for 44 home runs and 176 runs batted in (RBI).

The Wyverns had to climb out of a big hole to reach the postseason. They were sixth at the All-Star break, 6.5 games back of the first-place Lions, before turning their season around in the second half. They went 19-13 in one-run games during the season, the KBO's best winning percentage is the situation.

With comparatively weaker starting pitching, they will need their bullpen to return to its dominant form from the regular season.

Park Hee-soo and Jung Woo-ram, the two lefties handling setup and closing duties, have struggled with their command this postseason. Jung, who earned a career-high 30 saves this year, issued four walks in five innings against Lotte, after giving up only nine in 49 innings during the regular season.

At the plate, leadoff Jeong Keun-woo, voted the most valuable player (MVP) of the second round series, will once again be counted on to spark the Wyverns' offense. They also have a handful of playoff-tested veterans, including the 2010 Korean Series MVP Park Jung-kwon.

Park, who missed the 2008 Korean Series with an injury, has a .323 batting average in his four previous final appearances, about 60 points better than his regular season career batting average.

This year's Korean Series will feature a managerial matchup between two former Lions' All-Stars.

Samsung manager Ryu Joong-il and SK manager Lee Man-soo were teammates on the Lions from 1987 to 1997. Lee, a slugging catcher, was voted the league MVP in 1983. A year later, he became the first KBO player to win the batting Triple Crown as the league leader in home runs, RBI and batting average. He served as a coach for the Chicago White Sox when they won the World Series in 2005.

Ryu was one of the premier defensive shortstops in his days and won two Golden Gloves in his 13-year career. He had been a defensive coach for the Lions before taking over as the manager in 2011.

This is Ryu's second straight Korean Series as a manager, and Lee's first.

At a media day event held in Daegu Tuesday, Ryu said he is looking forward to the rematch.

"I expected SK to reach the Korean Series again, and they have a lot of players who perform well in playoffs," Ryu said. "But we beat them to win the championship last year and we're full of confidence. If we don't let our guards down, I think we will have good results this year."

Lee, the SK manager, said he was aware of his team's underdog status but his players will try to prove their detractors wrong.

"We only get one day off, but our players are on a roll," he said. "They will surprise a few people. We had an edge in our regular season meetings, and I expect our players to go out there with confidence."

Baseball analysts said the well-rested Lions should take the title thanks to their starting pitching and offense.

Ha Il-sung, a commentator for the KBS N Sports cable station, said pitching will make the difference.

"In the playoffs, the best-of-seven is a whole lot different than the best-of-five," Ha said. "In the longer series, the team with better starting pitching should have an edge. The Lions have good starters with Jang Won-sam, Mitch Talbot (14 wins) and Bae Young-soo (12 wins), plus their closer Oh Seung-hwan."

Yang Sang-moon, an analyst for the MBC Sports+ cable channel, said the Wyverns will need Park Hee-soo and Jung Woo-ram to regain their form, or it will be a short series.

"The Lions will have more options out of the bullpen than the Wyverns," he said. "Park and Jung were clearly not 100 percent (in the previous series). If they go to games six or seven, fatigue will get to SK."

The Lions will host the first two games on Wednesday and Thursday. The series will shift to the Wyverns' home of Incheon for the next two.

Under a KBO rule designed to bring more fans, if a team with the home field advantage in the Korean Series plays at a park with a capacity smaller than 25,000, Games 5 through 7, if necessary, will be played at Jamsil Stadium, which sits 27,000 in the nation's capital.

In that case, the Lions will be the home team and bat last in Games 5 and 7.

Daegu Baseball Stadium, which opened in 1948, seats only 10,000, according to the KBO.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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