Asia Series – KBO Samsung Lions capture Asia No. 1 title, subdue SoftBank Hawks 5-3 in final
Report by Jason Pan in Taiwan

The Samsung Lions of South Korea made history by capturing the 2011 Asia Series title on Tuesday.

It was the first time for a Korean champion club to win the Asia Series, which is organized and hosted by Taiwan this year.

Seizing the opportunity with timely hits in the 5th inning, the Samsung Lions scored 5 runs in that pivotal rally to subdue the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan by a 5-3 result.

For the Samsung team and many Korean baseball fans, it was a joyous occasion to celebrate this historic accomplishment.

It marks the first time for KBO champions to bring the Asia Series trophy back home to Korea, and for the Samsung Lions to stake claim as Asia’s top baseball team in 2011.

Samsung starting pitcher Jang Won-Sam and closer Oh Seung-Hwan both had outstanding performances in this pressure-packed final showdown at the Taichung Intercontinental Stadium.

Lefty pitcher Jang started on the mound for the Lions. He did a great job in holding SoftBank Hawks hitters at bay, scattering 5 hits and gave up one lone run in 6 and 1/3 innings of work.

For his effort in the final and with 2 wins (ERA of 2.19), Jang was selected as the MVP of Asia Series this year.

Ace closer Oh, the KBO Relief King (47 saves and a minuscule 0.63 ERA in 54 game appearances in 2011 regular season), came in to pitch two final innings to preserve the victory.

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks got on board first, when third baseman Matsuda Nobuhiro drove in a run with a double to lead 1-0 in the opening frame.

It stayed that way until the Samsung Lions took advantage of a shaky 5th inning by SoftBank starter Iwasaki Sho to break the game open.

In that rally, the Korean Lions battered Hawks starter Iwasaki on 3 hits and 2 walks, including RBI singles by right fielder Jung Hyung-Sik and third baseman Park Sok-Min when with bases loaded to pile on 3 runs.

At the point, Hawks starter Iwasaki was pulled and replaced by lefty Yang Yao-Hsun (Taiwanese pitcher plying his trade in Japan).

Yang got the next batter out, but he then leaked 2 runs when shortstop Kawasaki Munenori could not handle a sharp grounder by Samsung’s subsequent hitter, left fielder Kang Bong-Kyu.

It was 5-1 after the fifth frame, and the SoftBank team had to generate some offense to get back into this game.

The Japanese NPB champions got their chance in the 8th inning. Against Samsung’s third pitcher Kwon Hyuk, the Hawks had consecutive hits to put two men on bases with no out.

Samsung manager Ryu Joong-Il made the crucial decision to bring on “KBO Relief King” Oh Seung-Hwan at that point. Oh gave up a single to load the bases.and still with no out.

If they get a couple of clutch hits, the SoftBank Hawks can score some runs and might even tied up the score.

The next batter was third baseman Matsuda (already with an RBI-double early in the game), and Oh induced him to hit a grounder to right side for a 4-6-3 double play, but the Hawks did scored a run from man at third base.

With two outs, SoftBank outfielder Hasegawa Yuya slapped an RBI-single to drive in their second run in the inning for the 5-3 score line. Oh would hang on to get the third out and stopped the Hawks from further scoring.

The double play with bases loaded and no out proved to be a key play in the game outcome, as the Hawks could have produced more runs in this 8th frame, but the Korean defense held their ground to end the potential threat.

In the bottom of 9th inning, Oh did not give the opposition any chance to come back when he overpowered all three SoftBank batters to deliver the Asia Series crown to the KBO champions.

It was also a sweet revenge against the NPB titlist team, because the SoftBank Hawks had earlier overwhelmed the Samsung Lions 9-0 in the round-robin, which was seen as an humiliating defeat by many Korean fans.

Samsung manager Ryu made good on his promise to defeat SoftBank in the final, saying that attaining Asia No. 1 is very important because the honor and pride of Korean people are at stake, and his team will prevail in the final.

Ryu was more modest after the victory in the post-game interview, “Japanese baseball is still very strong and playing at a high level. From this win, I would not say we have surpassed Japan. We can say that Korean baseball is now as good as Japanese baseball.”

He added, “It was a special win for us. We are especially happy because it is against the champion team of Japan.”

Ryu also praised the successful organization of the event by the host, saying the fans in Taiwan are very passionate, and that Taiwanese baseball teams will improve for the future to compete at the same level as Korea and Japan.

SoftBank manager Akiyama Koji said, “The Samsung Lions pitchers we encountered today was very tough. It was hard for us to get on base and score runs. We all have seen the strong side of Korean baseball today.”

The Samsung Lions club have done well to break the past stranglehold by Japanese champion teams in taking the Asia Series title this year.

Previous title winners in this event were all by Japan NPB clubs - Chiba Lotte Marines, Nippon Ham Fighters, Chunichi Dragons, and Seibu Lions (from 2005 to 2008, when it was also known as the Konami Cup after the chief corporate sponsor).

For 2009 to 2010, the Asia Series was placed on hold due to financial issues. It was replaced by a single challenge game (between NPB and KBO champions) won by the Yomiuri Giants in Nagasaki in 2009.

An abbreviated tourney between titlist teams of three countries (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) was held in 2010, which was won by Chiba Lotte Marines at the Tokyo Dome.

KBO will host the 2012 Asia Series in South Korea, and they have already announced an expanded format with six teams for next year – including this year’s involvement of champions of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia (ABL), with two additions, from the title winner of China’s CBL League, and the other finalist team from KBO Championship Finals.

(From IBAF Website)