Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Bulls, Elephants face off


TV crews, Taiwanese baseball legends, government officials and the fans will flock to Kaohsiung tomorrow for Taiwan's own annual Fall Classic.

Game 1 of the highly anticipated 2003 Taiwan Series will begin at 6:35pm where the second-half champions Brother Elephants will host the champs of the first-half, the Sinon Bulls, in the highest rated championship series in the CPBL's 14-year history.

The Elephants will begin the contest with home-field advantage in the best-of-seven series, because their winning percentage for the entire regular season was a hundredth of a percentage point better than the Bulls. This means that the Elephants will play host in Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 (Games 6 and 7 if necessary), while the Bulls will return the favor in Games 3, 4, and 5 (plus Game 5 if necessary).

While the local Chinese-language media is focusing on the offensive stars in the series, experts believe that pitching and postseason experience will matter most.

This will be the third consecutive title run for the Elephants, who won six straight games in the past two postseasons to sweep their way to two championship trophies.

The Bulls failed in the 1998 and 2000 series.

In addition to experience and a recent history of success, the Elephants appear to also have the edge in pitching, with a starting rotation that includes Yokota Hisanori (most wins this season with 16), Nakagomi Sin (2.53 ERA) and Jonathan Hurst (former major leaguer with abundant postseason experience).

Although the Bulls have ace Jeff Andra (14 wins with a 2.01 ERA) and Osvaldo Martinez (league-best 182 strikeouts), the rotation lacks depth.

The third starter for the Bulls could be Tsai Chung-nan (蔡仲南) or rookie Yang Chien-fu (陽建福), who joined the team mid-way through the season.

While Tsai has shown some signs of brilliance since his return from a shoulder injury last month, skipper Chen Wei-cheng (陳威成) has almost no way of knowing how Yang will handle the pressure of championship play.

The Bulls hope that they can offset their weakness in starting pitching with the league's best relieving corp in Yu Wen-pin (余文彬), Ho Chi-shian (何紀賢) and ace closer Ramon Morel.

The trio has held opposing hitters to minimal damage late in the game on numerous occasions.

"I wouldn't count us out so fast," Chen said. "We have a solid rotation that is virtually unhittable when they are in the groove.

"And our relievers are the best in the business. I wouldn't give us any lead, because we will probably win it," he said.

Chang Tai-shan (張泰山), Cheng Jau-han (鄭兆行) and Yeh Jung-chang (葉君璋) of the Bulls have all had postseason experience during their days with the former Weichuan Dragons in the late 1990s.

Known for his ability to manage by earning his players' trust, Elephants manager Lin Yi-tseng (林易增) has warned his players not to underestimate the Bulls.

"Players have been known to exceed their expected limitations in the postseason," Lin said. "It's really hard to explain how we were able to win the title two years ago."

Lin recalled how his team rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the 2001 championship series against the heavily favored Lions to steal the trophy.

Anything is possible in the postseason.

"Just look at the Anaheim Angels last year and the Marlins in 1997," Elephants pitcher Jonathan Hurst said. "That's what makes the postseason as exciting as it is."

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