BUSAN, South Korea – I love the little things! (Insert joke here.) Seriously, in a sports age where everything is about big plays, big money and big egos I really enjoy watching plays that can tilt the momentum for you or against you; yet may be missed by most. These are the selfless plays made by an athlete for no other reason than a built in desire to propel his team to victory.
And while last week was filled with fireworks, Lotte finished the week with a 4-8 season record, beginning with a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl –I use this term loosely since we are talking about the KBO– on Tuesday and then reaching an apex on Friday, when fans witnessed an epic offensive battle between Lotte and Hanhwa.
And while there were all "big," I still find myself drawn towards the little things that are helping, hindering and possibly crippling the Giants.
A baseball clubhouse is like the Three Little Pigs. It can be made of straw, wood or brick. The little things will always determine which house you get. Here's my take on the Giants so far this season:
THE BRICK HOUSE
Now, while I can’t say gratuitous violence is a good thing, I can safely say that Karim Garcia plowing into the LG catcher on a play at home and the ensuing bench clearing conversations, during Lotte’s 7-5 win on April 6 was exactly what the struggling Giants needed.
Ok, maybe this was not exactly a 'little thing' in retrospect, but Garcia’s decision to transform from athlete to steamroller was the competitive spark the local team needed.
Now, jump ahead four days and enter Garcia once more. Sure he was phenomenal in Lotte’s 15-14 marathon loss to Hanhwa. Heck, Garcia put up Kirby Puckett like numbers going 7 for 7 from the plate, with a 3-run homer, 6 rbi’s, 3 runs, 2 sb’s and a possible game saving (at the time) outfield assist, but it was his base running in the sixth that was the most impressive. Lotte was winning 11-6 and looked in lock-down mode. Garcia singled, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and later scored on a sacrifice.
If Garcia doesn’t maintain his killer instinct that run never happens and extra-innings are but a figment of every fans inebriated imagination. (If I have offended any sober, non-drinking Lotte fans…too bad. Even you know by midnight on Friday that the majority of fans remaining in the stadium were a little past the state of happy.) The point is – how many stars even bother in an 11-6 game? Sure there were a staggering 51 hits and 29 runs scored during the five and a half hour battle, but of all Garcia’s accomplishments on that day his base running should not be ignored.
Finally, after dropping the first two games at home to Hanhwa, Lotte entered Sunday’s contest desperate to salvage a win. After Hanhwa dropped a cool seven in one of the ugliest innings of the season Lotte was able to comeback from the 8-2 deficit and force extra innings for the second time in three nights. Now for the ultimate hustle play. Leading off the 10th Joo-Chan Kim dove head first into first to beat the throw and earn a hard fought single. He later was thrown out at home while trying to his best Garcia-steam roller like impression at home, but his extra effort led to Lotte scoring the game-winning run when Sang Heun Hong drew a walk with the bases loaded.
These brick house plays may not guarantee victory, but a sturdy clubhouse physically, morally and psychologically will guarantee success.
THE WOOD HOUSE
As much as little plays can propel and motivate a clubhouse they can also de-moralize a team, hence the wood house. There is nothing wrong with a wood house, it can be stable and even look good but continue to neglect it or procrastinate on those home improvements and it will slowly rot. Now Dae Ho Lee is an exceptional talent. He is blessed with great hand-eye coordination and this has allowed him to excel in baseball and earn a good living along the way. However, despite all these advantages he has one glaring flaw, ok two if you count his physique. He lacks the killer instinct, the desire to win at all costs.
If you were in a bar fight he would be your oversized friend who invokes fear and then conveniently disappears into the crowd as the first punch is thrown. He will sit out with the tiniest injury and is not willing to put his body on the line.
Case in point, in Saturday’s 9-2 loss to Hanhwa in the bottom of the sixth Lotte is losing 8-1. Lee is on second; Garcia is on first; there on no out. Hong hits a ground ball that looks destined to make it threw for a single. At the last second the sprawling shortstop corrals the ball, turns and makes a wishful throw to third for the force. His wish came true as Lee was out on his feet. His Feet! No slide, nothing! Maybe Lotte still loses, maybe Lee’s turtle like speed is still not enough, but as an offensive leader at least slide.
Hong Sang Heun
Lee is the Shaquille O’Neal of the KBO, dominant at times, but there one glaring deficiency, free throws for Shaq and running/competitiveness for Lee, will and has hurt their teams in crunch time. A wood house can be stable…renovations just need to be made.
THE STRAW HOUSE
You can survive and live well in a wood house, you will thrive in a brick house, but utter destruction is the only possible outcome for any straw house resident. The season is only entering its third week, so it would be wrong to scream bomb at this point. However, the Lotte pitching has been horrendous. A good batting order can only take a team so far, clutch pitching is essential to any team’s hope for league and playoff success. On countless occasions last week the Lotte pitching staff failed to live up to their end of the bargain. Last week, the arm-slingers constantly went deep into the count, eventually walking or losing their one-on-one duels, inevitably prolonging innings and losing games.
This not only creates tired arms but can crush team morale and eventually spark animosity in a now fragile clubhouse. This was hammered home on the weekend when Lotte’s pitching gave up 34 runs in three games. This included a lead off walk in the 12th on Friday that proved to be the game-winning run. Even worse Sunday saw Lotte give up eight runs on five hits through the first five-innings, luckily they were eventually bailed out be the offense.
It is too early to say what house the Giants will choose to make their home, but one thing is for sure, the wolves are circling
For more information on the Giants, look for weekly recaps, schedules and standings on the Busan Haps' Lotte Giants Page