Wyverns have the winning formulaAs of Wednesday, the SK Wyverns held the No. 1 slot of the Korean baseball league with a record of 42-22-1. If you remember, this team, which was founded in 2000, placed last that season, and next to last during the following two seasons. Now they are on top of the league and many wonder what has happened.
One reason for the Wyverns’ leapfrog to the top of the league is their successful signing of foreign talent ― though in SK’s case, it is but one foreign player. Though teams had the option of signing up to three foreign players last year, that number shrank to two this year. The Wyverns signed a 32-year-old Venezuelan, Eddie Diaz. The third-baseman comes from the Japanese League, where he played for four years.
SK’s bet that Diaz’s experience in the Japanese league could be applied to the Korean League paid off handsomely. Diaz, who batted .279 during his time in Japan, has registered 13 home runs and 35 runs batted in so far, with a .311 batting average. It seems the Venezuelan, fourth in the lineup, has gotten accustomed to the Korean strike zone with little difficulty.
Besides their scoring firepower, the Wyverns know how to protect their lead. The man on hand is Cho Woong-cheon who, despite being a first-time closer, has a 4-1 record with 19 saves and an earned run average of 1.89. With the help of set-up man Cheong Dae-hyeon, who over 50 innings has recorded a 2.32 earned-run average, the Wyverns have managed to shut the doors on opponents.
Another player in the Wyverns’ winning formula is catcher Park Gyeong-wan, 31, who was brought in from the Hyundai Unicorns during the off-season with a three-year contract. Many viewed the move with skepticism, thinking Park’s prime years were waning. Nevertheless, the veteran leadership that Park brings to the clubhouse has helped the Wyverns tremendously, both on and off the field.
Armed with 12 years of experience, Park has helped the Wyverns’ inexperienced young guns, guiding them against opposing batters. His .262 batting average, 10 home runs, and 38 runners batted in, meanwhile, are pretty respectable for a player who many had doubted at the season’s outset.
While many fans are hooked into the pitcher-versus-batter struggle, forgetting the catcher, make no mistake: It is this invisible man squatting behind the plate who has cemented SK’s success.
When teams play the Wyverns no one can be safe until the final out. In 34 games where the Wyverns gave up the first run, they came back to win 26 times while losing just seven and tying one. Such strong focus becomes crucial in big games.
Establishing dominance over certain opponents has helped as well. When the Wyverns play the Doosan Bears they are in a zone and the Bears are hibernating. Nine times the two teams have met ― and nine times the Wyverns have had the last laugh. Only the Kia Tigers have similar dominance over another team; they are 9-0 against the Lotte Giants.
SK wants to play in the Korean Series this year and wants it badly. This is a hungry team with, as they say, nothing to lose. The record doesn’t lie.
by Brian Lee