BUSAN, South Korea- I've got to wonder how tough road trips are on the typical KBO team. In Korea, you're never more than four hours away from home. You're never gone for more than a week. You're playing with guys that you've been playing with since middle school. How hard could that really be? For the Giants, this week, the road was a real pain in the butt.
I don't know what it is about the Lions and the Giants bullpen, but the Giants' pen seems to meltdown against the Lions fairly frequently. The Giants suffered meltdowns in each of the next two games. On Wednesday, starter Ryan Sadowski took the mound for the first time in ten days. He wasn't injured. Between off days and rain outs he was never on a proper schedule. Sadowski threw the ball pretty well. He gave up three runs on seven hits and one walk during his six innings of work. He managed to strike out six Lions before giving way to the Lotte Arson Squad. Sadowski would have taken the loss in this one if it weren't for Hong Seong-heun hitting a solo homer in the top of the ninth to tie the game at three. The only problem is that Samsung untied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a solo homer of their own from third baseman Cho Dong-chan. That one had to hurt.
It was a similar story on get-away-day Thursday. Karim Garcia put the Giants up 6-4 in the eighth inning with a two-run homer. Samsung tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run rally. The Lions broke the hearts of Lotte fans again with another rally in the bottom of the ninth. This time it was local hero/KBO home run king Yang Joon-hyeok ripping a base hit down the left field line with a runner in scoring position. Giants fans had to watch the Lions celebrate on the field for two straight nights.
Right after the sweep, the Giants headed to Seoul for three games with the LG Zombies. The Giants got yet another off day thanks to Mother Nature on Friday. I can only assume that the Giants used various slump-busting techniques to get them out of the funk they've been in. Whatever they did on Friday night, it worked. The Lotte offense came to life on Saturday. The Giants 2-3-4 hitters combined to go 10-17 with three walks, nine RBIs and six runs scored. The Lotte pitching staff must have partied a little too hearty on Friday because they looked as bad as they've ever looked against the Zombies. The Giants used eight pitchers on Saturday and only two didn't give up any runs and one of them only threw 2/3 of an inning. The Giants held a 13-12 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, but one of the Zombies Lee Byeong-gyu's hit a double with a runner in scoring position off of Lotte closer LimKyeong-won to tie the game at 13. Would the Giants be walked off for the third consecutive day? "No!" said left fielder Son Ah-seop. Son poked a single down the left field line with the bases loaded to give Lotte a 14-13 lead. Reliever Kim Il-yeop managed to throw not only a scoreless tenth inning, but also a scoreless eleventh inning to earn the W. Wonders never cease.
The Giants were able to get out of Seoul early thanks again to the rainy season in Korea. LG and Lotte only got seven innings, but seven innings were all the Giants needed to beat the Zombies 6-2. Starter Jang Won-joonrecovered from his dreadful outing against the Lions to throw a, erm, "complete game." Jang tossed all seven innings and only gave up two runs. Jang allowed four hits and two walks while striking out four. Lee Dae-ho continued his red-hot season. Lee blasted a two-run homer in the first inning and finished the game 2-4 with three RBIs and one run scored. Lee is leading the league with 24 homers and a 1.091 OPS. He's the clear favorite for MVP at this point.Hong Seong-heun went 3-4 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored. The rains came in the seventh and the game was quickly called. It rained like it meant business.
The Giants return home to Fortress Sajik this weekend against the SK Wyverns after playing 3 “home” games in Masan against the Nexen Heroes. Lotte holds a 7-3-1 record against the Heroes, but they're only 1-9 against the Wyverns. If you plan to go to Sajik this week, pack an umbrella. I'm not looking forward to writing a weather column next week, but based on the weather reports I've read, I might have to.
You can check out Matthew's popular blog, True Stories of Korean Baseball, where he follows the entire KBO throughout the week.