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Patient Lee hungry to come good in the end

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Aside from the Yomiuri Giants’ hunt for the Central League pennant, South Korean slugger Lee Seung Yeop is desperate to regain the reliability and pride he once had.

Much was expected of Lee entering the 2008 pennant race, but the 32-year-old fell into a serious slump and was sent down to the farm team in mid-April.

Lee was called up to the top team in late July, but had to leave the Giants to play in the Beijing Olympics as his nation’s cleanup hitter throughout August.

During Lee’s absence, four of the team’s other foreigners — outfielder Alex Ramirez and pitchers Seth Greisinger, Marc Kroon and Adrian Burnside — successfully fixed their positions.

The situation put Lee in a difficult position because a team only can register four foreign players on the active roster at a time. Ramirez and Kroon play significant roles on the team and are almost never taken off the roster.

Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara has had to juggle with Greisinger, Burnside and Lee. If either Greisinger or Burnside starts, Lee has to be off the active roster.

A humble star, Lee never voices discontent over the situation.

“If I’d had good results from the season opener, it wouldn’t have been like this. That’s my responsibility,” Lee said Thursday. “I have to adapt to it.”

But Hara may call on Lee more toward the end of the season and Climax Series playoffs, because the slugger has finally found the sweet spot on his bat.

After hitting his second homer of the season against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows last Sunday, Lee, who guided South Korea to its first Olympic gold medal in baseball in China, had a monster game against the Yokohama BayStars on Wednesday, smacking three homers with seven RBIs.

“He’s for real,” Hara told reporters after the game.

“I’ve never lost faith in him. Those were big home runs for sure.”

The second-place Giants, who were 13 games behind the CL-leading Tigers in June, have shrunk the gap to three entering a three-game face-to-face matchup with the Tigers at Tokyo Dome from Friday.

As the Giants have increased the pressure on the Kansai club, Lee’s bat has certainly been a big part of it.

“I just want to perform the best I can in the few remaining games,” he said.

“I want to show my presence in the end.”