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The return of the king

Lions win Korean Series title

When Samsung Lions’ closer Oh Seung-hwan came to the mound on Monday night, called upon once again to save the day, people knew he could do the job.

The 29-year-old pitcher thrust his arm into the air after successfully retiring three SK Wyverns’ batters in the ninth inning, reclaiming the Korean Series title for his team.

It was the Lions’ fourth Korean Series crown.

The Daegu-side beat the Wyverns 1-0 in Game 5 at Jamsil Stadium on Monday, boosted by impressive pitching by their most formidable closer Oh and seven perfect innings from starter Cha Woo-chan. Kang Bong-kyu hit the wining solo homer off Wyverns starter Brian Gordon in the fourth inning.

“It’s the most memorable day of my life,” Lions manger Ryu Joong-il said.

Before the start of this season, not many expected the Lions’ dominance in the country’s top baseball league.

Earlier this year when Sun Dong-ryul, who led the team to back-to-back titles in 2006, stepped down from his post, there were worries about whether the debutant manager Ryu was capable of taking the team to the title.

Two months into the season, the Lions were standing in the middle of the eight-team league table.

But by June, they had climbed to the top spot with a 15-7 win-loss record.

And they had a remarkable 27-14 record in August trough September to secure the automatic Korean Series berth.

Playing against the defending champions in the Korean Series for the second consecutive year, the Lions erased the memory of last year’s humiliating defeat as they beat the Incheon side 4-1 in the best-of-seven series.

After Monday’s victory, manager Ryu praised pitcher Oh as the “key” of the team’s success this season.

“He had just returned from his injury, so I wasn’t quite sure of him in the beginning. But he has been terrific this season,” Ryu said.

Right-hander Oh, who was voted the most valuable player of the Korean Series, notched eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings, and earned three saves to help the team win their first Korean series title since 2006.

He also had an excellent performance throughout the season, clinching a season-best 47 saves.

And with his contribution to the Lions’ triumph, Oh is now considered as the strong favorite to win the KBO’s Most Valuable Player award this year.

Despite the Korean Series letdown, Wyverns’ manager Lee Man-soo thanked his players, noting that he felt they were “real champions of the series.”

The Incheon-side made history this season, becoming the first KBO club ever to reach five Korean Series in a row. They fended off strong challenges from Kia Tigers and Lotte Giants in the playoffs.

“I am grateful to our players. They deserve praise, not criticism,” Lee added. 

By Oh Kyu-wook