Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Bears turn tables on Elephants

By Paul Huang  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

No one would have thought at the beginning of the season that by late-September the Brother Elephants would be the underdogs in a game against the last-place La New Bears.

The team that owned the Bears last season with a remarkable 18-0-2 record in head-to-head competition has not only lost two straight games recently, on the brink of a possible three-game series sweep at the paws of the Bears.

But the reality is that with the help of two promising rookies and a new hired gun from abroad, the Bears appear to have turned the corner in their current four-game winning streak, earning a pair of impressive victories from the league-leading President Lions and the defending champs, the Elephants.

Leading the offensive surge for the Bears is rookie second baseman Shih Chih-wei, first-year shortstop Lin Chih-sheng and newly arrived Venezuelan third baseman Eduardo Rios.

The hard-hitting Bears trio has been on fire during a team-high, four-game winning streak with a combined 20-for-55 mark and 11 runs batted in, accounting for nearly a third of the 36 runs that the Bears scored over the span.

Since regular season play resumed following the Summer Olympics in early September, the Bears have been 7-4-1 and are looking to finish strong

"We are shooting for winning 20 of our last 31 games this year, which would probably give us the second-best record in the league," Bears manager Hung Yi-chung said in a recent interview.

The former Bears standout traded in his catcher's mask for the top job earlier this year to replace Japanese coaching legend Ohda Takushi. Compared to the high-flying Bears, things are nowhere near as rosy for the ailing Elephants as they stare at the 1-7 record over the past eight contests.

Other than a close 1-0 win against the Sinon Bulls last Saturday in Tienmu, the three-time defending champs have been outscored by a combined margin of 49-to-18, including two embarrassing shutout losses.

Shaky starting pitching have put the Elephants on the trailing end in all but one of the seven losses -- an unfamiliar position to manager Lin Yi-tseng troops.

"We are so used to having the lead during a game -- playing catch-up is completely new to us," Elephants pinch-hitting specialist Hsu Ming-lan said.

Hsu and his teammates had been riding on the success of foreign starting pitchers Yokota Hisanori, Nakagomi Sin of Japan and former Major Leaguer Jonathan Hurst.

The threesome has averaged over 14 wins apiece in each of the past three seasons for the Elephants, making the bullpen's job a breeze.

But this season has finally taken a toll on the veteran pitchers, the youngest of whom will turn 35 in February.

"We have been fortunate that our three foreign starters have carried this team as far as they did, and it's time for the younger guys to pick up the slack," Lin Yi-tseng said.

Lin has one consolation: Peng "Chia Chia" Cheng-ming finally broke out of his long hitting slump with a 3-for-4 night on Friday in their loss to the Bears.

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