BUSAN, South Korea – This was exactly the kind of week the Giants needed. They went 3-2, but the three wins were huge and the Giants have cut their magic number down to six.
Two of the victories came at home against KIA. The Tigers have fallen to sixth place and need a miracle to get back into the race. The Giants are in a two team race for the final playoff spot, but they have a seven game advantage over the fifth place LG Twins with only twelve more games on the schedule.
Lotte fans might be getting excited, but Lotte manager Jerry Royster isn't ready to celebrate. "People are talking about secure, it's not," said Royster. "The biggest mistake a manager can make is to presume that it's secure. There are still some difficult wins out there. In an eight team league, all it takes is six or seven wins to get back in it," Royster added.
DH Hong Seong-heun is still struggling with his broken hand. "The doctors say the bone is 90% healed and he'll need about one more week before he can think about a return," said Royster.
Jerry was also concerned about Lee Dae-ho. "Lee is hurting with a calf injury, and could miss some time this week. As far as Karim Garcia and his injuries go, he's just gonna have to play through it," said Royster.
Shortstop Park Ki-hyeok is back from the Futures League, but it's unknown if he'll be able to return. When asked about Park, all Royster could say was, "we're not sure about Park. He's not capable of doing what he needs to do on the base paths."
Additionally, starting pitcher Jang Won-joon is suffering from a blister and may have to miss a start.
Hong's absence in the heart of the order has been felt by the Giants, but the emergence of players like Jeon Joon-woo and Son Ah-seop have lessened the impact of Hong's injury. When asked about their recent success Royster said, "We've changed a lot with these guys to maximize their abilities. We're trying to maximize power and encourage them to be the best on the field. They're so used to hearing the same things from Korean coaches and they need to hear different things."
Jeon enjoyed a red-hot August and he's stayed hot into the first week of September. He's bashed eight homers over the past five weeks and posted an OPS over .950. He's played mostly in center field, but he's capable of filling in at the corner spots. Jeon has a good chance to top 20 homers and 20 steals by the end of the year. That's a combination of power and speed that Lotte hasn't seen since second baseman Cho Seong-hwan hit ten homers and stole 31 bases in 2008.
Son Ah-seop is finally getting a crack at a full time job and he's making the most of it. Son saw quite a bit of action in 2008 as a 20-year old rookie, but he was slowed by injuries and poor play in 2009. Son has re-emerged over the past month. Son posted a .341/.408/.659 slash line in August and he's had some success in September as well.
The week got off to an auspicious start for the Giants. Lotte dropped a 8-7 decision that saw Lotte almost come all the way back from an 8-2 deficit in the ninth inning. All of the damage came against LG reliever Lee Beom-joon and most of it came with two outs. Jeon Joon-woo capped the five-run rally with a three-run homer and LG finally gave Lee the hook for Kim Kwang-su. It took Kim five pitches to strike out first baseman Park Jong-yoon for the final out.
Ryan Sadowski threw better than his stat line indicated. The final line for Ryan was six innings and six runs allowed (but only three earned). Ryan gave up six hits and three walks while striking out six. Sadowski ran into some bad luck when he came out for the seventh inning. The Lotte defense had a few issues and LG snuck a few hits in. There was a single down the line that appeared to defy gravity in order to stay fair.
Lotte hosted the KIA Tigers on Friday and Saturday. The Giants took both games and have essentially ended the 2009 KBO Champions' season. Starter Song Seung-joon saved one of his best games of the season for Friday. Song tossed eight innings of one-run baseball. Song gave up only four hits, one walk and a hit batsman while striking out six.
The Lotte offense battered KIA starter Yang Hyeon-jong for five runs during his 3 1/3 innings of work and Song was able to cruise to a W. Catcher Kang Min-ho went 2-5 with a homer, two RBIs and one run scored. Right fielder Jeong Bo-myeong chipped in with a 3-3, one walk, one double, one triple and two run effort.
It looked like KIA starter Seo Jae-wong would earn a series split for the Tigers, but Lotte's bats warmed once Seo tired and the KIA bullpen entered the game. The score was tied at four in the top of the seventh inning when Lotte struck for a six-run rally. Seo gave up a lead off hit in the seventh inning. After the hit, Seo lost his composure on the mound and the KIA defense followed him. After giving up the go-ahead run on a base hit from Lee Dae-ho, Seo was lifted for a wild Lee Dae-jin. Lee faced four batters. He gave up a base hit, walked one, and hit two before getting the hook. Lotte third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun busted out of his slump by going 2-4 with a double, four RBIs and a stolen base.
The Samsung Lions came to Busan for a two games with the Giants and managed to split the series. Lotte won the first game 2-1 after an 11-inning marathon. Lotte scratched across a run in the bottom of the eleventh when the Samsung bullpen decided to throw the game away…literally.
Lotte put runners on first and second with one out. Outfielder Lee Seung-hwa hit a grounder to short. Lee Dae-ho was forced out at second, but the throw from second baseman Lim Ik-joon bounced away from the first baseman. With runners on the corners and two outs, Samsung reliever Lim Jin-woo put a breaking ball in the dirt and it bounced away from the catcher. Pinch runner Hwang Seong-yong was able to scamper in from third with the game winning run to earn himself a shower and a beating from his teammates.
Lost in this game was a solid start from Lee Jae-gon. Lee threw 5 1/3 innings of one-run baseball. Lee gave up four hits and two walks while striking out two. Samsung took the second game thanks to a shaky effort from starter Kim Su-wan and some shakier work from the Lotte bullpen. The Giants jumped out to a four-run lead in the first inning, but the Lions took the lead when Kim started serving up gopher balls. The game was actually close when reliever Na Seung-han entered the game. It was out of hand by the time he left it. Na gave up seven runs on eight hits and one walk during his 1+ innings of work. I really can't believe he recorded three outs.
Lotte actually has a full schedule this week, but they'll be playing four different teams. Lotte starts the week at home against Nexen. Then, head to Daegu for a game with the Lions. After that, it's on to Seoul for one game against LG, a game against Nexen and two with Doosan over the weekend.
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO throughout the week.