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(2nd LD) Legendary slugger homers twice in final game

All Headlines 22:58 October 03, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS comments from paras 21-28)

DAEGU, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) -- Lee Seung-yuop, the greatest slugger in South Korean baseball history, bid adieu to the game on Tuesday in style, launching two home runs to bring an illustrious 23-year career to a spectacular, fairy-tale end.

Lee, 41, played his final game for his hometown club, the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), against the Nexen Heroes at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. Tuesday was the last day of the 2017 regular season.

Batting third and starting at first base, Lee homered in each of his first two at-bats to finish 2-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs. The Lions won the game 10-9.

Lee has retired as the KBO's all-time leader in home runs with 467 in 1,906 games. He's also tops in runs scored (1,355), RBIs (1,498), doubles (464) and total bases (4,077).

To mark the occasion, every Samsung player played in the uniform bearing Lee's number, 36, without their names on the back.

Lee himself wore a shin guard with the words, "I was happy to have played for the Samsung Lions."

Lee Seung-yuop of the Samsung Lions connects for a solo home run against the Nexen Heroes in the third inning of their Korea Baseball Organization game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Oct. 3, 2017. This was Lee's final KBO game. (Yonhap)

Lee hit his first home run, a two-run shot, off Nexen starter Han Hyun-hee in the bottom of the first. With a man at third with one out, Lee jumped on a 2-0 fastball and sent it over the right-center field wall, putting the Lions up 2-0.

The Heroes got a run back in the top second, and Lee came to the plate with two outs and nobody on in the third inning against Han. Lee promptly drove a 1-0 fastball over the right field to stake the Lions to a 3-1 lead.

This was the 28th time that Lee homered in consecutive at-bats.

Lee hit groundouts in the fifth and sixth innings. Then in his final plate appearance in the eighth inning, Lee hit into a fielder's choice.

With a man at first, Lee chopped a grounder right to shortstop Kim Hye-seong, who stepped on the second base bag for the force out but made a high throw to first base.

Lee spent his entire 15-year KBO career with the Lions. He played in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) from 2004 to 2011, and hit 159 home runs there.

Drafted out of high school as a pitcher in 1995, Lee converted to first baseman as a pro, and batted .285 with 13 home runs in his first season.

Lee Seung-yuop of the Samsung Lions rounds third base after hitting a two-run shot against the Nexen Heroes in the first inning of their Korea Baseball Organization game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Oct. 3, 2017. This was Lee's final KBO game. (Yonhap)

After dipping to nine homers in 1996, Lee reeled off seven consecutive 30-homer seasons, including a record 56 home runs in 2003. It stands as the KBO's single-season record for homers.

Lee certainly didn't limp to the finish line or just play out the strings while taking up a spot in the lineup. While batting .280, Lee ranked second on the team with 24 home runs and third with 87 RBIs and 30 doubles. The Lions finished ninth in the regular season for the second straight year but it certainly wasn't due to lack of production from the veteran.

Lee won four Korean Series championships with the Lions, and was named the series MVP in 2012. Individually, Lee captured five MVPs, and remains the only player to have won the top individual award in three consecutive seasons (2001-2003).

The Lions organized an on-field retirement ceremony after the game. The club donated 100 million won (US$87,400) to the Lee Seung-yuop Foundation, established in 2015 to benefit youth baseball players.

Lee received commemorative baseball and bat made of gold from Samsung captain, shortstop Kim Sang-su. Lee also was reunited with former Samsung manager Woo Yong-deuk, who was the skipper in Lee's rookie season in 1995, and Woo presented the retiring player with the jersey from that first year.

"I always dreamed of becoming a Samsung Lion, and I was fortunate to be a part of this franchise and win championships," Lee told the crowd. "I am really happy to have this ceremony today. I'll never forget this moment for the rest of my life."

Later in the ceremony, Lee took off his No. 36 jersey and handed it over to club CEO Kim Dong-hwan. The number was immediately retired by the Lions.

Players of the Samsung Lions throw Lee Seung-yuop in the air during Lee's retirement ceremony at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Oct. 3, 2017. Lee ended his 15-year Korea Baseball Organization career by hitting two home runs against the Nexen Heroes. (Yonhap)

In his final press conference as a player, Lee, his eyes still swollen after the teary retirement ceremony, said he was glad to help the team win his final game.

"I wanted to do well in front of my father and my two sons," Lee said. "Even though we finished ninth this year, I saw hopes for this club for next season."

Lee said his retirement didn't fully hit him until he handed over his jersey to get his number retired.

"During my 15 seasons here, I've helped and also hurt the team at times," he recalled. "I'd like to apologize to all players who couldn't concentrate on their own performance because of me. And I am also sorry to my teammates to be leaving at a difficult moment in time for this franchise."

Lee said playing baseball, despite his parents' early disapproval, was "the best decision I've ever made."

"I made all the decisions that came afterward, and I think I've mostly made the right calls," he said. "And I think I was right to pick this year to call it quits."

Lee also mused about his now-retired No. 36.

"I actually didn't like it at first, but I was forced to wear it as a rookie," he said. "When I won my first MVP in my third season (in 1997), I figured No. 36 was the perfect number for me. Now it's my favorite number."

Lee's career home run record should stand for the foreseeable future. On the all-time list, the next six players are all retired, and No. 8 on the list, Lee Bum-ho of the Kia Tigers, has 308 home runs in 1,881 career games. The 35-year-old has never hit more than 33 home runs in a season.

In the RBI department, Kim Tae-kyun of the Hanwha Eagles is the active leader with 1,233 in 1,747 games. The 35-year-old had 76 RBIs this year.

Lee also enjoyed an excellent international career. He's most famous for blasting a go-ahead, two-run home run against Japan in the semifinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, ending a protracted slump that almost cost Lee a spot in the starting lineup. Lee also hit a home run against Cuba in the gold medal game, which South Korea went on to win 3-2.

Lee Seung-yuop of the Samsung Lions acknowledges the crowd during his retirement ceremony at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu on Oct. 3, 2017. Lee ended his 15-year Korea Baseball Organization career by hitting two home runs against the Nexen Heroes. (Yonhap)

As gracious off the field as he's been dominant on the field, Lee was a feared slugger at the plate and a widely respected elder statesman of the game in the dugout. The KBO and its nine other clubs agreed to organize the first leaguewide retirement tour for Lee, honoring him in special ceremonies and presenting him with gifts at each of his final road stops throughout the season.

Lee's final road game came last weekend at Seoul's Jamsil Stadium, where he picked up his first career KBO hit 22 years ago.

At a press conference before Tuesday's game, Lee said he planned to stay in baseball after his playing days are over, with television analysis work as one of the possibilities.

Fans at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu hold up signs bearing No. 36, the number of retiring Samsung Lions' slugger Lee Seung-yuop, who played his final Korea Baseball Organization game on Oct. 3, 2017. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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