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Konami Cup Asia Series: Dragons edge S. Koreans to win Asia Series

by Rob Smaal, Staff Writer (Nov 13, 2007)

All this success by the Chunichi Dragons was starting to give manager Hiromitsu Ochiai a case of air sickness, but he can put away the Dramamine for now.

Ten days after his club won its first Japan Series title in 53 years, Ochiai was once again being tossed in the air by his players, this time after the Dragons beat South Korea's SK Wyverns 6-5 in Sunday's Konami Cup Asia Series final at Tokyo Dome.

Tournament MVP Hirokazu Ibata came through once again for Ochiai's club, delivering a tiebreaking RBI single in the top of the ninth off former Hiroshima Carp pitcher Mike Romano to ensure that the team from host Japan has won this event every year since its inception in 2005.

On Thursday, the Wyverns had beaten the Dragons 6-3 and the Korean club went into Sunday's final as the only unbeaten team in the four-team tournament, which features the league champions from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China's national team.

"We had lost to them once already but we really rose to the challenge today," said Ibata, who had driven in all four runs for Chunichi in their 4-2 victory over Taiwan's Uni-President Lions on Friday.

Daisuke Yamai, whose last outing for the Dragons was a historic performance in the clinching Game 5 of the Japan Series, got the start Sunday. While Yamai didn't come close to matching his eight innings of perfect pitching (24 up, 24 down) in the 1-0 victory over Nippon-Ham on Nov. 1, he did enough to keep his club in it through seven innings, limiting the Wyverns to five hits and two earned runs while striking out six and walking three.

Yoshihiro Suzuki got the win in relief with closer Hitoki Iwase retiring the side in order in the ninth to preserve the victory.

Dragons outfielder Lee Byung Kyu didn't win over any new fans in his native South Korea when he smashed a two-run tater in the sixth to give Chunichi a 5-2 lead.

"I play for the Dragons and this is a club competition, not national teams, so I don't really have any mixed feelings about it at all," said Lee, who played for the LG Twins in the KBO through last season.

The Wyverns pulled even on the strength of a solo homer by designated-hitter Kim Jae Hyun in the sixth and a mammoth two-run shot into the second deck from Lee Jin Young in the eighth off reliever Shinya Okamoto.

Earlier, Chunichi DH Kazuki Inoue homered off Wyverns starter Kenny Rayborn--another former Carp pitcher--in the second inning. It was the third home run of the tournament for the Dragons veteran.

Leadoff hitter Masahiro Araki provided a real spark for the Dragons all tournament, hitting .421 with three stolen bases.

"As usual, I asked my guys to go out there and just play ball," said Ochiai. "We really had no special approach for this tournament. There's always going to be a winner and there will always be a loser, and any game can turn on one key moment. I just wanted to take the pressure off my players so they could relax and play the game naturally."

American slugger Tyrone Woods, who led the Dragons in both home runs (35) and RBIs (102) this year, did not play in the event.

Japan Series MVP Norihiro Nakamura probably wishes he hadn't either. Nori, batting in the cleanup spot, was 0-for-3 Sunday with a pair of walks and the veteran infielder hit a dismal .077 over four Konami Cup games.

Romano ended up taking the loss Sunday, giving up one run on one hit in 1 1/3 innings.

Both the Dragons and the Wyverns finished with 3-1 records while the Lions were 1-2. China's national team, managed by American Jim Lefebvre, were the whipping boys of the competition, going 0-3 and getting outscored 31-6.


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