The wait is over. More than 20,000 eager fans are expected to fill the Kaohsiung County Baseball Stadium this afternoon to watch the 2006 Taiwan Series opener, where the regular season champs the La New Bears will take on the President Lions in a showdown between the top two teams in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Game 1 of this year's annual Fall Classic will feature a potent La New offense that stormed their way through the regular season with a 62-34-4 record, far superior to the second-place Lions (48-45-7), which swept the Sinon Bulls in three during last week's Playoff Series for the right to face La New.
Taking the mound for the home Bears in the all-important Game 1 will be lefty ace Wu Si-yo who will put his 17-3 record to the test against former high-school friend Pan "Du Du" Wei-luen of the Lions, whose team-best 14-9 mark may not compare well to Wu's, but can still outsmart the La New lefty with his newfound velocity (153kph fastball) and control, as well as a late-season surge that has earned him three straight victories since Sept. 30th.
While many may favor the Bears in this series for their outstanding offense -- that averaged over six runs per game during the regular season -- some would actually pick the Lions in the best-of-seven play for their superior postseason experience when compared to the Bears, who are making their first-ever Taiwan Series appearance.
The Lions also are on a roll, having swept the Bulls in convincing fashion with back-to-back shutout wins over the defending champs to enter the contest on an all-time high.
Regardless of the advantage that either club may realize prior to the first pitch, the outcome of the series will hinge on how effective the rest of the Lions pitching staff (other than Du Du and American lefty Jeriome Robertson) will be against a Bears lineup that acquired the services of former major leaguer Chen Chin-fong, whose league-best 81 RBIs, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases make him a triple threat to the visiting Lions.
Long ball hitters Lin Chih-sheng and Pan Chung-wei with 20 combined home runs and 110 RBIs will also be looking to swing their big bats often against the Lions pitching to make it a short series.
With Lions short of a legitimate number three and number four starter, mid-inning relief becomes a critical factor for manager Ohashi Yukata, which means that reliever extraordinaire Lin Yueh-ping will have to continue his recent mastery of the opposing hitters in the form of 10-1/3 shutout innings of relief over a five-game span for the Lions to be competitive.
As for the last line of defense, top Bears closer Ramon Morel of the Dominican Republic should hold a slight edge over his pitching counterpart Tseng Yi-cheng for Morel's big game experience, despite Tseng's 17 saves that tied him with the Bulls' Kuo Yong-chih for the top honor in total saves during the regular season.
Offensively for the Lions, red-hot rookie outfielder Pan Wu-hsiung, who batted over .500 during the Lions' Playoff Series against the Bulls, will not be available for the entire series as he sits out with a cracked rib he sustained during practice this week.? This will put an additional burden on the heart of the Lions' order as it looks to solve the blazing fastball and wicked slider from Wu that has made him one of the toughest pitchers to hit in the league.