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Rob Smaal

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Swallows 'Mr. Zero' still solid as a rock

by Rob Smaal (Jul 14, 2009)

You know you're having a good season when you give up one run and it makes headlines all across two nations.

That's what happened late Sunday afternoon, when Yakult Swallows closer Lim Chang Yong was charged with giving up his first earned run of the season in a 2-1 loss to the Yokohama BayStars at Jingu Stadium.

Prior to the game, Lim said he knew that first earned run was inevitable, he just didn't know when it would come.

Now that it's happened, the South Korea native may have lost his title as "Mr. Zero," but he is still having an unbelievable second season in Japanese baseball. His ERA through 34 appearances now stands at a miniscule 0.260. He has 19 saves to his credit and three wins this season, a year after posting 33 saves with Yakult.

His teammate, outfielder Aaron Guiel, calls Lim the best closer in Japanese baseball.

"He never gets rattled, never panics, he's always in control," said Guiel, a former New York Yankee in his third season in Japan. "It's like he has ice in his veins. Like when Mariano Rivera comes in for the Yankees, the whole team just has a sense of confidence that the game is over."

According to Guiel, Lim's varied repertoire is what makes him so tough on hitters.

"Lim has three or four really good pitches," Guiel continued. "He's got that sidearm fastball that's really difficult to pick up. His fastball from over the top jumps up to 95-99 (mph, 153-159 kph), and he's got a good slider and a forkball. It's very tough to adjust to three, four quality pitches. For him to be so consistent it's hard to believe, he's a rock."

But for all he has accomplished in Japanese baseball, Lim will forever be known here as the man who gave up the game-winning hit to Ichiro in the 2009 World Baseball Classic final, a moment that still haunts him to this day.

"I want to forget that at-bat but I can't get it out of my mind," Lim said. "It's in the past, but it's something that remains with me."

Lim's battles with Ichiro may not be over yet, however. While Lim recently signed a deal that will keep him with the Swallows through the 2010 season, he did say that a career in Major League Baseball is still on his radar.

He watches MLB games on TV and is a fan of the Yankees. (Brian Cashman, are you listening?) But that will have to wait.

"I'm just concentrating on this year," Lim said. "Next season I'll be with Yakult again, so I can't really think too much about anything beyond that."

In the meantime, Lim will keep mowing down Central League batters. He'll also be participating in the All-Star Series on July 24-25, becoming the first Korean player to be voted in by the fans.

"To be chosen by the fans is an honor," said Lim, who received nearly 300,000 votes. "To know that I'm in the hearts of Japanese fans means a lot to me."


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