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Slumping Samsung slugger Lee Seung-yeop hoping for breakout in championship decider

All Headlines 16:47 November 01, 2013

By Yoo Jee-ho

DAEGU, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- After falling behind three games to one in the Korean Series against the Doosan Bears, the Samsung Lions have stormed back to win two straight games to force the decisive Game 7 for later Friday.

And they have erased the deficit despite struggles of Lee Seung-yeop, one of their key left-handed bats.

Lee, the all-time home run leader in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) with 358, has long made a career out of delivering key hits in crucial moments, both for the Lions and with the South Korean national team.

He was voted the MVP of the 2012 Korean Series, helping the Lions capture their second consecutive title by hitting .348 with a home run and seven RBIs, including three in the clinching Game 6.

This year, Lee's lack of production during the regular season has carried over into the postseason. In 111 games, the 36-year-old batted his career-worst .253 and had only 13 home runs, the second-lowest total of his illustrious career. His 69 RBIs were also the lowest total he's ever posted.

In six Korean Series games, Lee, who has been the team's designated hitter, is batting only 3-for-23 with no home run or RBI.

With the Lions within reach of their third consecutive championship, Lee said hours before Game 7 that he feels he is about to break out of his slump at the plate.

"I think I am overdue," Lee said quietly. "I am doing my best, and I know I have to produce at the plate and let my numbers speak for themselves."

Internationally, Lee is famous for hitting the game-winning double off the future Major League Baseball (MLB) star Daisuke Matsuzaka in the bronze medal game at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Eight years later at the Beijing, Lee broke out of an extended slump to launch a tie-breaking two-run home run in the eighth inning against Japan in the semifinals. Then in the gold medal match against Cuba, Lee hit a solo home run to help South Korea win 3-2.

Though Lee is scuffling at the plate in this year's Korean Series, he does have history of breaking out in a dramatic fashion.

During the 2002 Korean Series against the LG Twins, Lee had gone 2-for-20 with no home run when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth in Game 6. He promptly blasted a game-tying three-run home run off LG's closer Lee Sang-hoon. Ma Hae-young followed up with a walk-off home run that clinched the Lions' title.

Reflecting on the 2002 Korean Series, Lee said he is a bit more relaxed now.

"I think I was rushing so much on the field back then," he said. "Now, I am really just sorry for my teammates because I haven't been doing my job as one of the senior guys on the team."

Lee said he will put aside concerns for personal glory or statistics as long as he can win another championship.

"This is my first Game 7 in the Korean Series," Lee said, whose two previous Korean Series, in 2002 and 2012, both ended in six games. "Since I've started playing baseball, I think this is the most important game for me."

Lee's teammates have been producing in his stead. Chae Tae-in belted a go-ahead two-run home run in the sixth inning to key the Lions' 6-2 win in Game 6 Thursday, and Lee led the wild celebration in the dugout as if he'd just hit one out of the park himself.

Lee said he was just overjoyed to see his team take the lead.

"It'd be nice if I can play well and help the team win," Lee said. "But as long as we win, it doesn't really matter to me how I play. I think it's been quite a while since I've been this desperate for a victory."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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