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(LEAD) Samsung Lions clinch 4th straight pennant in S. Korean baseball

All Headlines 22:52 October 15, 2014

(ATTN: ADDS details, comments, photo)

DAEGU, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- The Samsung Lions clinched their fourth consecutive pennant in the top South Korean baseball league with a narrow victory on Wednesday.

The Lions defeated the LG Twins 5-3 at their home in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to secure first place in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season this year with one game remaining. Second baseman Yamaico Navarro hit a tie-breaking solo shot in the two-run eighth inning, as the Lions improved to 78-46 with three ties for the season.

The Lions have also won the championship Korean Series in each of the past three years and will look to become the second KBO team ever to win four Korean Series in a row.
<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20141015009951315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='Members of the Samsung Lions celebrate after clinching their fourth straight KBO pennant in Daegu on Oct. 15, 2014. (Yonhap)'/>

By virtue of finishing first in the regular season, the Lions have earned the bye to the Korean Series and will face the winner of the second round of the playoffs.

The postseason opens Sunday with a best-of-five series between the No. 3 and the No. 4 teams. The winner there will take on the No. 2-ranked team in the second round, which is also a best-of-five affair.

The best-of-seven Korean Series is scheduled to begin on Nov. 4.

Through Wednesday, the Nexen Heroes have clinched second place and the NC Dinos, in just their second KBO season, have secured third place. The Twins and the SK Wyverns are still battling for the final postseason ticket.

The Twins have one game remaining and the Wyverns have two left.

The Lions had to claw their way to the victory on Wednesday. They built a 3-0 lead through five innings, before the Twins got one back in the top sixth.

Then in the top seventh, the Twins scored twice to draw even on a double and a wild pitch.

Just when the momentum seemed to swing in the Twins' favor, Navarro belted his 31st home run of the year off the Twins' reliever Yoo Won-sang.

LG's next pitcher, Lee Dong-hyun, hit a batter with the bases loaded to make it 5-3 for the Lions.

Samsung's setup man An Ji-man was credited with the win after pitching 2 2/3 innings and Lim Chang-yong got the final out for his 31st save of the season.

More so than in their recent championship years, the Lions have had ups and downs over the course of the 2014 season. They opened the year without their veteran closer Oh Seung-hwan, who bolted for Japan during the offseason, and their leadoff man Bae Young-seop, who began his mandatory military service in winter.

Despite missing the key pieces, the Lions took over first place on May 16 and never relinquished the position the rest of the way. Yet they came close to doing so late in the season.

On Aug. 26, they opened a 7.5-game lead on the second-place Heroes but then went on to lose five in a row for the first time in four years.

Then earlier this month, they also lost five straight games, with the Heroes breathing down their necks.

The Heroes did their part to keep up on Wednesday, coming from behind to beat the Lotte Giants 7-6, but will have to settle for second place and a bye to the second round of the postseason.

The Lions' manager Ryu Joong-il breathed a sigh of relief after the game, saying he has had "a very long October."

"At least we had a happy ending," he said. "At the beginning of the season, without Oh Seung-hwan and Bae Young-seop, I actually thought it'd be difficult to win another pennant this year."

The Lions plugged the holes by re-acquiring their former closer and one-time Chicago Cubs reliever Lim Chang-yong, and signing Navarro to be the new leadoff man.

Lim is among the league leaders with 31 saves. Though he has also blown the KBO-worst nine saves, Ryu credited Lim with helping steady the bullpen early in the season.

Navarro has exceeded preseason expectations to put together a highly productive season, with 31 homers, 98 RBIs, 25 steals and 118 runs scored, along with a .310 average.

Veteran slugger Lee Seung-yuop, the KBO's career leader in homers with 390 coming off his worst season in 2013, bounced back nicely with 32 homers and 101 RBIs. At 38, he also became the oldest player ever to have at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in one season.

Ryu said he was pleased to see Lee return to form in 2014.

"If he had struggled like he did last year, it would have been a really stressful season for both him and me," Ryu said. "He's played a huge role for our club this year."

The manager said the Lions are far from finished.

"We have the Korean Series left," he said. "No team has won four straight pennants and the Korean Series, and we want to set the record."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
(END)

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