BUSAN, South Korea – We’re two games into this series and it’s clear that this is not going to be a walk in the park for either side. I was talking to a baseball scout last week, and we both agreed that we were headed for a full five game series. Neither of us had any idea which of these teams would win.
We’re two games into the series and we’re tied 1-1. There is still no clear advantage. This series could go any one of four ways. Anyone picking this series is either lying or biased. However, I’m going with Lotte in five games.
Lotte and SK started the series on Sunday and the two teams showed what kind of a playoff series we were in for.
Sunday’s game was a 4 ½ hour affair that saw multiple lead changes and extra innings. Fans of both teams were completely spent by the time the final out was recorded. The only difference was that SK fans were riding a wave of euphoria as well as the KTX on their way back home, while Lotte fans had to hope that the ?? restaurant was still open to drown their sorrows with some fresh fish and soju.
Lotte ace Jang Won-joon got the ball for game one and Lotte needed more from him. Jang tossed five innings, but was tagged for four runs. Jang gave up nine hits and two walks while striking out three. Lotte needed at least six or seven innings out of Jang if they were going to really have a chance at taking Game 1.
Jang looked competent compared to SK starter Kim Kwang-hyeon. Kim was chased from the game in the fourth inning. Kim was knocked around for four runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out four.
The two teams traded runs until Lotte tied the game at six in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and the bases empty, DH Hong Seong-heun singled, stole second and scored on a base hit from Lee Dae-ho.
Lotte put runners on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. Infielder Song Yong-seok hit grounder back to SK reliever Eom Jeong-wook. Eom froze the runner at third before throwing Song out at first. Left fielder Kim Ju-chan was intentionally walked to load the bases and Eom was pulled for Jeong Woo-ram. Jeong needed exactly one pitch to get Son Ah-seop to ground into an inning ending double play.
The game didn’t stay tied for much longer. SK catcher Jeong Sang-ho hit a solo homer off of Lotte’s Chris Bootcheck to give SK a 7-6 lead. The homer was a line shot that landed in the third row of the left field seats.
Left fielder Kim Ju-chan was Mr. Everything for Lotte. Kim went 3-5 with a walk, a homer, two RBIs, two runs scored and a stolen base.
Jeong Woo-ram stayed in for the bottom of the tenth and retired all three batters he faced in order to end the game.
It was very encouraging to see Manager Yang turn to starters Goh Won-joon and Chris Bootcheck in the late innings even if it didn’t work out in the end. Goh and Bootcheck are better served as the bridge to closer Kim Sa-yul than in a starting role in a five game series. The plan for Lotte appears to be a three-man rotation with Jang, Song Seung-joon and Ryan Sadowski.
Lotte dominated game two thanks to a solid pitching performance from Song Seung-joon and a couple homers.
Lotte broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a three-run rally. Most of the damage came on a two-run homer from center fielder Jeon Joon-woo.
SK fought back in the seventh with a RBI single from first baseman Park Jeong-kwon to cut the lead to 3-1, but Lotte catcher Kang Min-ho clubbed a solo homer in the eighth inning to ice the game.
Lotte starter Song Seung-joon tossed six plus innings of one-run baseball before giving way to the Lotte bullpen. Song gave up five hits and three walks while striking out six.
Lotte third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun looked like Brooks Robinson at third base. If the ball was hit within a fifteen foot radius around Hwang, he was going to get to it. It looked like he had a twin because he was all over the field.
Game 3 is Wednesday in Incheon at 6 PM local time. Song Eun-beom will start for the Wyverns and Ryan Sadowski gets the nod for the Giants. Song! Sadowski! SK! Lotte! The KBO on MBC!
You can read Matthew's blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO each week.