Published : 2013-09-11 16:45
Updated : 2013-09-11 16:45
The LG Twins and Samsung Lions, the top two teams in the Korea Baseball Organization as of Tuesday, faced off in a two-game series at LG’s home turf of Seoul on Saturday and Sunday.
With the two splitting the series at one game apiece, it is sill unclear who will be crowned the champion of the pennant race. There are 17 and 19 games left in the regular season for LG and Samsung, respectively,
The perennial powerhouse Samsung won both the pennant race and the championship “Korean Series” the past two years. It has won the second-most championships in KBO history with six titles under its belt.
This year, however, the defending champions may have finally met their match in the Twins, who are close to clinching their first playoff berth since 2002. If the Twins finally dethrone the Lions in the championship series, it will be their first title in 19 years.
For LG, a championship means more than just redemption; it means a chance to snub its old rival.
The two were among the six teams of the KBO’s 1982 inaugural season and played against each other in South Korea’s first-ever professional game. LG -- then MBC Chungyong -- upset the heavily favored Samsung team in the 10th inning.
Their rivalry took another turn in the 1990 Korean Series, when LG swept Samsung in four straight games to take its first championship. The Lions’ then-head coach Jeong Dong-jin was fired after the series.
Plays that occurred in the following season suggested unsettled bitterness between the two teams. During a match in July, LG pitcher Jeong Sam-heum threw two straight pitches that nearly hit Samsung hitter Gang Jong-pil in the ninth inning with his team down 5-2.
Jeong was ejected from the game and suspended for 10 games for his actions.
“I think their (the Lions’) bench may have booed us,” said the Twins’ then-head coach Baek In-cheon, about Jeong’s action. He added that the Lions may have held a grudge against the Twins for beating them in the Korean Series.
Their rivalry extends beyond the field. The two teams have not been involved in a single trade with each other for nearly 23 years, since LG Group acquired the Twins from local broadcaster MBC prior to the 1990 season.
The standoff ended in December 2012, when the two clubs went through a 3:3 trade.
Their rivalry also seemed to be fading, as the two teams’ records showed a stark contrast in recent years.
Samsung, powered by formidable sluggers including Lee Seung-yeop and Ma Hae-Yeong, has won three championships since 2002. LG made it to the post-season only twice since 2000.
After a decade of disappointing up-and-down seasons, the Twins finally made it to the top of the standings and seem poised to take on its old rival once more.
LG holds a one-game lead over Samsung with an edge of 8-7, but the two rivals are still evenly matched.
The team that finishes first in the regular season is likely to have the upper hand, as the top-seeded team is exempt from first and second round of the playoffs and heads straight to the championship series. The second-place team has to start from the semi-finals, while the third- and fourth-place team must survive three grueling rounds of playoffs.
Kim Jae-geol, an assistant coach and former player for the Lions, said that while the Twins became a well-organized team, playing on the “big stage” is completely different.
“Their veterans will be under enormous pressure, playing their first post-season game in 11 years,” Kim said in an interview with local media. “Most of our players, however, have post-season experiences. It’s something to note.”
The renewed rivalry was accompanied by some bumping and nudging by members of the two teams.
In August, Twins first baseman Mun Seon-jae found himself in hot water after he bumped into Lions infielder Cho Dong-chan. Cho sustained a season-ending knee injury and Lions’ fans placed the blame on Mun, although he said the run-in was not intentional.
On Saturday, an unidentified Twins’ fan struck Lions pitcher Bae Yeong-soo in the head as he exited the ballpark after the game. LG pitcher Radhames Liz became a target of fierce criticism from Samsung fans after he hit Samsung’s Bae Yeong-seob in the head with a pitch the next day.