BUSAN, South Korea- I had a feeling this would be a strange week with the way things started. The week actually started with an apology from SK Wyverns manager Kim Seong-geun. Manager Kim said,"??? ??? ?? ?." A literal translation is "Lotte is like sand." What Manager Kim was actually saying is that Lotte doesn't play together as a team. After some reflection, Manager Kim chose to call Jerry Royster personally to apologize. Kim is a man that sends players down to the "Futures League" like a bodily function. He's made questionable decisions and blamed players in the media. He's not known for being apologetic, even when he's completely in the wrong. He's the boss and that's the way it is. To his credit, he's won two KBO championships and three Manager of the Year awards, but he hasn't done it by apologizing…ever.
Following the apology, the Lotte Giants dropped two of three to the LG Twins at Fortress Sajik. On Tuesday night, it was the Lotte defense that betrayed them. After a four-run rally in the seventh inning that featured a solo homer from DH Hong Seong-heun and a three-run bomb from left fielder Son Ah-seob, the Giants held a 4-3 lead. In the top of the eighth inning, LG third baseman Jeong Seong-hoon lead off the inning with a double. Shortstop Oh Ji-hwan laid down a sac bunt to get Jeong into third, but after fielding it cleanly, Lotte catcher Kang Min-ho threw the ball into left field trying to get Jeong at third. Jeong scored to tie the game and Oh advanced to second. With two outs and Oh on third, LG center fielder Lee Dae-hyeong poked a single through the right side to score Oh and give LG a 5-4 lead. Lee stole second and scored on a single from left fielder Lee Byeong-gyu and pushed the lead to 6-4.The Giants did get a run back on an RBI sac fly from Kang Min-ho, but LG closer Shinya Okamoto nailed down the W with a scoreless ninth.
On Wednesday, it was the Lotte pitching staff's turn to blow the game. Lotter starter Cho Jeong-hoon was chased from the game during the fifth inning. Cho allowed four runs on six hits, three walks and one hit batsman. The LG pitching staff wasn't much better, but the Giants dug themselves an early hole and couldn't climb out of it. After 5 1/2 innings, the Giants were trailing 7-1. The Lotte offense didn't quit and they did their best to keep this one from turning into a laugher. Both right fielder Karim Garcia and first baseman Park Jong-yoon drove in two runs.
The Giants picked up their first win of the week on Thursday with a 11-2 pasting. Lotte starter Ryan Sadowski threw what was easily his best game of the season to date. Sadowski tossed seven shutout innings and allowed only three hits and one walk while striking out six. Every Lotte regular recorded a base hit and either scored or drove in a run. The Giants banged out 16 hits, drew two walks and were hit twice by pitches. DH Hong Seong-heun went 3-4 with a HBP, two RBIs and a run scored. This was one of the most dominating efforts the Giants put together this season. Even the Giants' defense was superior to LG. Lotte outplayed LG in every facet of the game. It was like someone flipped a switch and Lotte figured out that LG wasn't very good. It's too bad they had to drop two at home before they realized they were better.
The Giants rolled into Daegu to play the Samsung Lions and continued playing well. Lotte needed a sweep and got one. The Giants outscored Samsung 25-6 over the three game series. Samsung held a three-run lead in the third inning of Friday's game, and I'm fairly certain that was the last time they lead all weekend. In the top of the fourth inning, Lee Dae-ho hit a two-run homer and Karim Garcia followed with a solo shot to tie the game. Lotte catcher Kang Min-ho was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Outfielder Park Jong-yoon laid down a sac bunt to advance the runners, but he hit it into no-man's-land and everyone was safe. Lotte shortstop Park Ki-hyeok poked a single through the left side to drive in two and give the Giants a 5-3 lead. Lotte starter Lee Jae-gon exited the game after the fifth inning and five Lotte relievers combined to throw four shutout innings against the Lions. Closer Lim Kyeong-won recorded the final two outs for his fifth save of the season.
Saturday's game got out of hand quickly. Lotte already had a 2-0 lead when Kang Min-ho clubbed a grand slam in the fourth inning. Karim Garcia bashed a pair of homers and second baseman Cho Seong-hwan went 5-5 with a double, a homer, one RBI and three runs scored as Lotte cruised to a 10-2 victory. Lotte starter Jang Won-joon was the lucky recipient of the offensive outburst. Jang earned his sixth W of the season and tossed seven innings of two-run baseball. Jang allowed seven hits and one walk while striking out seven.
It was more of the same on Sunday as the Giants brought out the brooms and swept the Lions out of Daegu. Lotte starter Song Seung-joon tossed a quality start while the Lotte offense battered every Samsung pitcher they faced. Song also earned his sixth win of the season and threw six innings of one-run baseball. Song allowed four hits and three walks while striking out three. No one really had an outstanding day at the plate for the Giants, but it felt like everyone chipped in. Lotte used assembly line-style rallies instead of simply bashing the Lions out of the park. DH Hong Seong-heun went 2-5 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored. Lee Dae-ho also went 2-5 with a solo homer, one RBI and two runs scored. Left fielder Son Ah-seop lead off for the Giants and went 3-4 with two runs scored. It was a thoroughly dominating effort by the Giants over the Lions.
Samsung is in the middle of a five-game losing streak, while the Giants are on a four-game winning streak. The Giants could be making an assault on the number three playoff seed. The Giants currently find themselves 1.5 games in back of KIA for the four seed and only 2.5 games behind Samsung for the three seed. Lotte will keep their winning streak on the road as they head to Seoul to battle the Nexen Heroes before coming back home over the weekend to face the Hanhwa Eagles at Fortress Sajik.
Given Lotte's recent history, I could see them going 6-0 and riding a 10-game winning streak into next week. I could also see them going 0-6 and falling back into sixth place. Anything is possible with the 2010 Lotte Giants, but win or lose, they do it in exciting fashion.
EDITOR'S NOTE: We are willing to entertain the coincidence that Lotte got hot the game after we had the first ever Night With the Giants Expat Night. Thanks again to Jerry, the team and the management for a memorable night. (You can check out photos from the night here on Facebook)
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO throughout the week.