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Rob Smaal

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South Koreans send wake-up call to Lions

by Rob Smaal (Nov 14, 2008)

South Korea's SK Wyverns brought the Seibu Lions back down to earth Thursday, going deep twice at Tokyo Dome to secure a 4-3 win over the Japan Series champions in the Asia Series opener for both clubs.

In the first game of the four-team tournament earlier in the day, Taiwan's Uni-President Lions scored a ninth-inning, come-from-behind 7-4 win over China's Tianjin Lions.

The Asia Series features the champions from the professional leagues in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

In the nightcap, Seibu scored early when Japan Series hero Hiroshi Hirao singled home a run in the top of the first frame off Wyverns ace Kim Kwang Hyun, only to see the Koreans square things in the bottom of the second on a controversial solo homer off the bat of cleanup-hitter Park Jae Hong.

The shot to left off Seibu starter Kazuyuki Hoashi clearly had enough distance, but it appeared to sail just wide of the foul pole. However, after conferring among themselves, the umpiring crew ruled it a home run.

The Wyverns struck for three runs in the bottom of the fourth when Lee Jae Won smoked a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole--no doubt about it this time--and Park Jae Sang's RBI single scored Park Jae Hong from second.

That spelled the end of the night for Hoashi as Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe called on right-hander Tetsuya Iwasaki, who induced a double play to get out of the inning without further damage.

In the fifth, Seibu clawed out a pair when Takumi Kuriyama doubled in a run and Hirao followed up with an RBI single to make it a 4-3 game.

Kim, who won 16 games this season and was named MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization, then uncorked a wild pitch and made a throwing error on his way to walking Takeya Nakamura, who was the last batter he would face.

Kim, who got the win in South Korea's 6-2 victory over Japan in the Beijing Olympic semifinals, went 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. He struck out five and walked a pair.

Reliever Lee Seung Ho (1-0) held the Leos hitless over the final three innings to pick up the win. He did not allow a run and struck out four.

Lions lefty Hoashi (0-1) gave up four runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings. He whiffed six and walked one batter.

Seibu, fresh off its Game 7 Japan Series win over the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday, are playing this event without nine regulars. Shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, outfielder G.G. Sato and catcher Toru Hosokawa are all nursing injuries. Veteran starters Kaz Ishii and Fumiya Nishiguchi are also not taking part, as well as imports Alex Graman, Hiram Bocachica, Matt Kinney and Craig Brazell.

Earlier, in the opening game of the tournament, Uni-President's Pan Wu-hsiung connected for a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Taiwanese champions a 7-4 walk-off win over China's Tianjin Lions.

Pan, who had an RBI double earlier in the game, went deep off Tianjin reliever Li Jia Qiang with two men aboard after the Taiwanese club had tied the game 4-4 earlier in the inning on an RBI single to left by pinch-hitter Kuo Chun-yu off Lu Jian Gang.

"I didn't know it was going out when I hit it," said Pan. "It's the first sayonara home run of my career and certainly one I'll never forget."

Tseng Yi-cheng worked one scoreless inning in relief to get the win for the Taiwan club.

Tianjin catcher Zhang Zhen Wang drove in three runs to stake his Lions to a surprising 4-0 lead through four innings.

After designated-hitter Meng Zhao Peng drove in the opening run in the top of the second for the Chinese club, Zhang connected for a two-run double to left off Taiwan starter Lin Cheng-feng to increase the lead to 3-0.

In the fourth, Zhang, a New York Yankees prospect, rapped a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 4-0 for Tianjin.

But in the bottom of the fifth, the Uni-Presidents got a solo home run from Liu Fu-hao and back-to-back RBI doubles to center from Huang Kan-lin and Pan made it a one-run game, setting the scene for the dramatic ninth.

Since its inception in 2005, the Asia Series has been won by the NPB representative each year. The Chiba Lotte Marines took the title in 2005, followed by the Nippon-Ham Fighters in '06 and the Chunichi Dragons last year. In last year's final, Chunichi edged Wyverns 6-5.

The tournament wraps up Sunday with all games taking place at Tokyo Dome.


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