A pot of gold at end of the rainoutRest didn’t translate to rust for the defending Korean baseball champs Samsung Lions, who shut out the Hanwha Eagles 4-0 in the opening match of this year’s Korean Series on Saturday. After clinching the regular season title and the bye to the Korean Series at the end of the regular season, the Lions had not played for 19 days. The Eagles, meanwhile, had to play two rounds of the playoffs just to get to the final.
Given that 19 of the 23 Korean Series champions won their opening game, the Lions put themselves in a good position.
But the Eagles, the third-place team from the regular season who toppled the Kia Tigers and the Hyundai Unicorns en route to the championship series, are hoping that a little bit of rain changed the momentum. They won game two Monday night 6-2, to even the series at one apiece.
The second game, in the Lions’ home stadium in Daegu, was rained out on Sunday. The last time a game two of the Korean Series was postponed due to rain was in 2001. The Lions had defeated the Doosan Bears 7-4 in the first game, but after the rainout, the Bears reeled off four wins in the next five contests to claim the championship. The manager of those Bears? Current Eagles skipper Kim In-sik. Overall, the Lions have lost all four playoff games they have played following a rainout.
Predictably, Sun Dong-yol, the Lions manager, was having none of that story.
“It’s all nonsense, as far as I am concerned,” Sun told reporters gathered Sunday at Daegu Stadium. “I wasn’t even on the team four years ago [team president Kim Euoung-young was the manager then]. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: we’re as well prepared as we can be for this series.”
Sun mentioned at least one positive from the postponement, however. Bae Young-soo, who pitched six scoreless innings in the first game, was scheduled to start game four on three days’ rest. Instead, he will have an extra day off since the fourth game has been pushed back another day to tomorrow.
Over at the other dugout, Kim, the Eagles manager, was almost relieved when the second game was postponed. Although he tried to downplay the media’s attempts to connect dots between his 2001 Bears and the present Eagles ― “They are obviously different teams,” he said ― Kim said his players, who have played two playoff series, could have used a break.
“Well, I felt like we would have lost had we played today,” Kim said in his dugout on Sunday, before handing out players’ pre-game snacks to reporters around him in mock celebration of the day off. “With the rest, I think our players will be able to settle down mentally as well.”
Whether the rainout helped or not, the Eagles did take the second game 6-2. Moon Dong-hwan, the starter who won 16 games in the regular season, made his third relief appearance in the postseason and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings for the victory. With the Eagles leading 4-1, Moon got out of the two-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth inning by getting the Lions’ top run producer Yang Jun-hyuk to pop out.
Moon, after giving up seven runs in 8 2/3 innings as a starter in the postseason, has not allowed a run in eight innings as a reliever this month.
The Eagles’ No. 3 hitter Jay Davis chipped in with a two-run homer in the seventh to give his team a more comfortable 6-2 lead.
The one player Kim needs to settle down is the pitching triple crown winner and strong candidate for most valuable player candidate, rookie starter Ryu Hyun-jin.
The lefty Ryu was the losing pitcher in the first game, and after getting one out in the fifth inning and the Eagles down 2-0, he asked to be taken out of the game citing pain in his pitching elbow.
Since the Eagles rode Ryu hard all season to reach the playoffs ― he led the league in innings pitched with 201 2/3, a single-season rookie record ― it is little wonder that the 19-year-old, who had surgery on his pitching arm in high school, is showing signs of breaking down.
But by Sunday afternoon, moments before the cancellation of the game two was made official, Ryu declared himself ready to make more starts.
“My elbow is pain-free,” he said in the dugout Sunday. “I am good to go the rest of the series.”
His manager Kim said Ryu’s turn in the rotation would fall tomorrow. Ryu, initially penciled in as a game five starter because of his elbow pains, would have four days’ rest to start in game four.
But when Ryu does return to the mound, he will have to contend not just with the hitters, but with the opposing manager, Sun, who was apparently trying to get into the head of the rookie by announcing Sunday his team has finally figured out a way to beat Ryu.
Sun is considered the finest pitcher in Korean professional baseball history, so when he talks about pitchers, it warrants some attention.
In the press conference before the second game was postponed, Sun told reporters that Ryu wasn’t the same, dominant pitcher in the earlier rounds of the playoffs that he was during the season, when he went 5-0 against the Lions with an earned run average of 1.62. Coaches from the Tigers and the Unicorns, the Eagles’ two previous opponents, also said Ryu’s fastball had lost some zip and his slider wasn’t as sharp. This, Sun added, gave the Lions hitters some confidence they could get to Ryu. After the game one victory, Sun said, “I knew sooner or later, Ryu was going to lose to us, and I am glad this was the occasion.”
Also, Sun said his hitters were successful in attacking Ryu’s breaking pitches and laying off fastballs.
“We knew he wouldn’t be throwing fastballs all the time, although he was successful early on [getting five strikeouts through two innings] with them,” the Lions manager said. “I asked the guys to look for breaking balls. Plus, Ryu looked rather nervous out there.”
by Yoo Jee-ho