DAEGU, Nov. 4 (Yonhap) -- The Samsung Lions, by virtue of finishing first in the regular season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), earned the bye to the championship Korean Series. The last regular season game for the three-time defending champs was on Oct. 16, and they watched two playoff rounds before commencing their title defense on Tuesday.
Finally back in action after nearly three weeks, the Lions looked sluggish at the plate and shaky on the mound against the Nexen Heroes.
The Heroes defeated the Lions 4-2 on the road at Daegu Stadium, thanks to Kang Jung-ho's tie-breaking two-run jack in the eighth.
The Lions got their two runs on a homer by Yamaico Navarro in the third, but that was one of just four hits the team could muster on Tuesday.
After Navarro's homer, 19 straight Samsung batters were retired, before Chae Tae-in's single with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Two batters that followed, cleanup hitter Choi Hyoung-woo and No. 5 man Park Sok-min, popped out to left and to catcher, respectively, to kill the Lions' one final rally.
The Lions played two practice matches against the KT Wiz, an expansion club set to join the KBO next year, and then two intrasquad matches to stay sharp. With the majority of their core players having already experienced the Korean Series after extensive layoffs, preparedness seemed to be the least of concerns for the veteran club.
Yet the Lions struck out 10 times against three Nexen pitchers. Despite serving up the homer to Navarro, starter Andy Van Hekken used his guile to fan six batters in six innings.
The Heroes then sent out hard-throwing right-hander Cho Sang-woo to begin the seventh. He struck out three in two perfect innings.
Closer Son Seung-lak worked around Chae's single in the ninth, striking out one and retiring two others on fly balls.
The Lions had the best team batting average in the regular season at .301, and trailed only the Heroes in the runs department with 812, but were collectively a shell of their usual selves on Tuesday.
Samsung starter Rick van den Hurk, pitching for the first time since Oct. 14, walked two and hit two batters in 6 1/3 innings.
He hit just five batters in 152 2/3 regular season innings.
Cha Woo-chan, who relieved van den Hurk with one out in the seventh, also hit two men, after hitting two in 82 regular season innings.
The second hit-by-pitch proved fatal for Samsung. Cha hit Park Byung-ho with his first pitch in the eighth, and promptly got behind 3-1 on Kang, who then hammered Cha's slider over the left center field wall to put the Heroes up for good.
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