Lions and Brothers earn close wins to provide CPBL drama

By Paul Huang  /  Contributing reporter

Fri, Apr 17, 2015 - Page 20

Close plays dominated the first two days of action this week, with the Uni-President Lions topping the EDA Rhinos 5-4 in Kaohsiung on Monday, and the Chinatrust Brothers rallying past the Lamigo Monkeys in a 7-5 comeback in Taichung on Tuesday evening to bring more drama to fans across the nation.

The Cats rode the right arm of starter Justin Thomas, who took a three-hit shutout one out into the bottom of the eighth before surrendering a run to lose his shutout bid. Even though he went on to pocket the win, it was anything but a breeze as the at-home Rhinos put up three runs in the bottom of the ninth against Warner Madrigal on the merit of a three-run blast by Cheng Da-hung, before the Lions closer retired the final two Rhinos hitters to preserve the narrow road thriller for his club.

That set up Tuesday night’s impressive comeback by the Brothers, who batted around the order in an explosive four-run eighth to turn a 5-3 deficit into a 7-5 lead for the eventual win.

In a contest that featured four lead-changes, the Primates drew first blood by cashing in on a wild Bobby Blevins, who gave up a leadoff single to the Brothers’ Chan Chih-yao, before issuing a pair of walks and a wild pitch to cough up the first Primates run.

After back-to-back solo homers by Chang Chih-hao and Jaime Pedroza helped the Brothers take a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth, the road Primates connected on three straight two-out base hits, highlighted by Kuo Yen-wen’s two-run single, to plate three runs that made it 5-3.

The score remained 5-3 for the next three innings, until the men in the golden uniforms baffled two Monkeys relievers with six hits in a four-run eighth to retake the lead for good.

Failure to protect the lead on the part of the Primates bullpen in Tuesday night’s game, along with the early ineffectiveness of Rhinos closer Luo Chia-jen (7.14 ERA through Wednesday) and Brothers closer Luo Kuo-hua (6.23 ERA through Wednesday), left many wondering if the league is missing the presence of a dominant closer that it has been accustomed to in the past.

While the early success enjoyed by the hitters are apparent in the number of high-scoring games (seven runs or more by a team) reaching 63 percent (22 of 35) in the first month of play, it has been a while since the league did not have at least one hurler who can take over the game in a save situation to finish off the game like a capable closer should.

It might be too early to tell whether the role of the closer is being marginalized in the league at this point, but the need to have a pitcher who can serve the role will only escalate if the managers wish to sleep better at night for the remainder of the season.