Giants, Bears kick off KBO playoffs

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Giants, Bears kick off KBO playoffs

The Lotte Giants battled through a decelerating regular season campaign to clinch the final spot in the Korea Baseball Organization postseason, keeping hopes alive for a first Korea Series title in 20 years.

The Busan club will have to overturn its recent history of sluggish playoff baseball when it takes on the third-place Doosan Bears at 6 p.m. tonight at Jamsil Stadium, eastern Seoul, in the first game of the best-of-five series that will see the winner take on the SK Wyverns in the semifinals.

Song Seung-joon (7-11) will start on the mound for the Giants in a surprise call by manager Yang Seung-ho, opting for the Korean instead of American ace Shane Youman (13-7). He will face former Texas Ranger Dustin Nippert (11-10), who ended the regular season with a 3.20 ERA.

The Bears’ starting rotation has the edge over the Giants with two more pitchers with at least 10 wins including No Kyung-eun (12-6) and Lee Yong-chan (10-11). Closer Scott Proctor also recorded 35 saves for the season.

“I believe that our starting pitchers will be able to shut out all three games,” Bears outfielder Kim Hyun-soo said.

This is the fourth postseason duel between the Giants and the Bears since the league was launched in 1982. The Giants’ offense has cooled toward the end of the series in all of the previous matchups, blowing leads as the Bears advanced.

The Giants met the Bears in the 1995 Korea Series, and the Busan club gave up its 3-2 series lead to lose 4-3.

They met again in the first round of the playoffs in 2009 and Lotte won the first game before suffering three straight losses. The pattern was repeated when they met each other in the first round of the playoffs the following year, when the Giants were up two games before losing three straight.

Lotte, which once led the league in the early part of the 2012 season, appeared to be falling into its old ways with five straight losses following a seven-game losing streak in the last two months.

“We went at a good pace in the early part of the season, but it was bad in September and October,” Giants manager Yang told a joint media conference arranged for the two teams in Seoul yesterday.

“It was such a bad pace that I thought that baseball would never feel this difficult,” Yang said.

The manager, however, said they will regroup and play confidently in the latest showdown with the Bears.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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