Riding their bullpen in the crunch once again, the Samsung Lions have added yet another championship banner.
The Lions clinched their second straight Korea Baseball Organization title, knocking off the SK Wyverns in the Korea Series in six games. It was the Lions’ fourth title since 2005.
In those championship seasons, the common thread for the Lions has been pitching. Their rise as a consistent force in the KBO has coincided with the emergence of overpowering relief pitchers.
In this year’s Korean Series, the Lions’ pitching staff had more ups and downs than in recent playoffs, but their relief corps proved clutch when it counted the most.
At the heart of the pen is closer Oh Seung-hwan. The right-hander’s dominance in late-inning situations offers an apt illustration of the Lions’ brand of baseball.
In the Korean Series, Samsung closer Oh Seung-hwan pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings while getting a pair of four-out saves. (Yonhap News)
Oh helped the Lions win the Korean Series in 2005, his first year in the league, and was voted MVP of the final after pitching seven scoreless innings and recording a win and a save during the Lions’ four-game sweep of the Doosan Bears.
The Lions won another title in 2006 with Oh firmly entrenched as the closer. In 2011, the team’s third championship season since his rookie year, Oh grabbed his second Korean Series MVP thanks to three saves in 5 2/3 scoreless innings.
Though he didn’t win the MVP this year, Oh pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings while getting a pair of four-out saves. In his 17 Korean Series appearances, spanning 26 innings, Oh has given up just two earned runs.
Oh has received plenty of help from his bullpen mates, who have decidedly less glamorous jobs than the closer and whose responsibilities are no less important.
Ahn Ji-man, another hard-throwing right-hander, enjoyed a banner season in 2012, recording a career-best 1.71 ERA and picking up a team-high 28 holds.
He suffered through an uncharacteristically shaky outing in Game 3 of the Korean Series, taking the loss after allowing four earned runs in just an inning. He also gave up his first home run since May.
Ahn bounced back in Game 5 with a clutch performance that took the wind out of SK’s sails and also may have shifted the momentum to the Lions’ side for good.
In the top of the seventh, with the Lions clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Wyverns put runners on first and second with nobody out.
Ahn struck out the next two batters and induced the pinch hitter Lee Jae-won to ground out to short. He had another strikeout before handing things over to Oh for the save.
Oh turned 30 this past summer, and Ahn is 29. The Lions also have a 19-year-old rookie sidearm pitcher Shim Chang-min, who had a 1.83 ERA and struck out 41 in 39 1/3 innings this year.
With their key starters just hitting their stride and bats blossoming, it’s not difficult to envision the Lions back in the postseason in 2013. (Yonhap News)