Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Bulls edge out Elephants for title

By Paul Huang  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Yang Jien-fu's (陽建福) game-ending strikeout with the bases loaded against the Macoto Cobras in Sunday's regular season finale ended a four-run, ninth-inning Cobras rally to preserve a 9-8 victory for the Sinon Bulls.

The win gave the Bulls a .563 winning percentage for the second half, just .003 of a percentage point ahead of the Brother Elephants' .560 mark in the Chinese Professional Baseball League's closest season finish ever, to clinch the second half title outright and earn a trip for the Bulls to the upcoming 2004 Taiwan Series.

The team that trailed the Elephants by a half-game as recently as last Friday morning. After dropping their series opener to the serpents in a 3-0 shutout on Thursday, the Bulls got the break they needed when the Elephants lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to the La New Bears in Tienmu on Saturday to fall even with the Bulls in the standings heading into Sunday's contest.

It would not have mattered for the Bulls had the Elephants won on Saturday, because the league's defending champions would have finished the second half ahead of the Bulls with a clean sweep of the Bears.

"This is why baseball is the great game that it is -- anything is possible on a baseball diamond," Bulls' interim manager Liu Rong-hua (劉榮華) said after his troops had swarmed the field in joy following their nail-biting finish on Sunday.

The Bulls had all but wrapped up the win on Sunday when they took a commanding 9-4 lead after seven innings of play, capped by cleanup man Chang "Prince of the Forest" Tai-shan's (張泰山) two-run double in the top of the fifth.

Then came the Cobras' dramatic rally that scored four times in the bottom of the ninth to pull within a run of the Bulls.

"I knew that another walk would have tied the game, so I went with my fastball to make the Cobras batter have to earn a hit," Yang Jien-fu said. "I'm glad I was able to get the strikeout for the win."

Having learned of their postseason hopes being eliminated by the Bulls' victory earlier in the day, the Elephants took out their frustration on the Bears by ringing up seven runs on 10 hits in a meaningless win on Sunday afternoon.

Many on the Elephants squad believed that the Cobras, in the interest of protecting ace lefty Lin Ying-jeh's (林英傑) slim .039-run lead over Yang Jien-fu for the earned-run-average title, intentionally left the southpaw out of the lineup and sent a weaker Yang Chi-jia (楊騏嘉) to take on the Bulls, ultimately costing the Elephants a chance for an unprecedented fourth straight championship appearance.

"Had Lin started for the Cobras instead of Yang, we would probably be celebrating right now because the Cobras would have beaten the Bulls," a bitter Elephants skipper Lin Yi-tseng (林易增) said late Sunday evening.

Lin Yi-tseng saw his team's chance to make it into the postseason take a wrong turn when Bears third baseman Eduardo Rios doubled to bring in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth to put the Bears up 2-1, while two Elephants hitters failed to make good on an one-out, bases-loaded situation to at least force the game into extra innings in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"We really have ourselves to blame for the loss, because we had every chance to win, but we simply could not come up with the big hit," Elephants ace Jonathan Hurst said.

The former Major Leaguer from the US led the league in total victories with 17, giving him 16 or more wins in three of the last four seasons that he has spent with the Elephants.

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