KBO enters its last weekend with title race too close to callThat sound you just heard was a collective sigh of relief from the SK Wyverns on Wednesday.
The defending Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) champions snapped their season-high six-game losing streak, defeating the Samsung Lions 1-0 behind starter Kim Kwang-hyun’s seven shutout innings and Jung Eui-yoon’s solo home run at SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon.
Thanks to this victory, the Wyverns will live to see another day in first place, with a record of 85-54-1 (wins-losses-ties). They entered Wednesday’s action just one game up on the Doosan Bears.
The Bears shut out the Lotte Giants 7-0 on Wednesday to stay one game back of the Wyverns. The Bears were set to face the Lions on Thursday, so that gap may now have narrowed to 0.5 games or increased to 1.5 games. The game had not been played as of press time.
With four games left, the Wyverns’ magic number - the sum of their wins and the Bears’ losses - is now four. The Wyverns had Thursday off before playing the Lions again Friday and Saturday on the road in Daegu. They will then travel to Daejeon to close out the season with a two-game set against the Hanwha Eagles.
The Bears also have four games remaining, with two long road trips on the horizon. After visiting the Lions on Thursday, they host the Eagles on Saturday. They finish the regular season with games against the LG Twins in Seoul on Sunday and against the NC Dinos in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, next Tuesday.
As recently as Aug. 24, the Wyverns were leading the Bears by 7.5 games, considered virtually insurmountable given the way they’d been playing.
But their bats have gone cold in September, especially after they had four straight games rained out at the start of the month, and the trend continued on Wednesday.
The Wyverns had two men on with one out in the first but couldn’t cash in. They wasted a two-out single in the second and went down in order in the third.
Jung Eui-yoon then led off the fourth with a solo homer off Samsung starter Choi Chae-heung, and it stood as the winning run.
Kim Kwang-hyun improved to 16-6 and lowered his ERA from 2.60 to 2.50, good for third in the KBO. It was his first scoreless start since Aug. 20.
Right-hander Moon Seung-won, moved from the rotation to the bullpen, made his first relief appearance of the season in the eighth inning and pitched around a leadoff walk to keep the Lions off the board.
Closer Ha Jae-hoon, in his first appearance in 11 days, pitched a perfect ninth for his league-leading 35th save of the season.
Against the Giants at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of Seoul, the Bears scored all seven of their runs in the sixth inning.
They had managed just three hits off Lotte starter Brock Dykxhoorn through five frames. Then in the sixth, the Bears loaded the bases with nobody out after two singles and a walk.
Kim Jae-ho’s comeback to the mound went off Dykxhoorn’s glove, allowing Oh Jae-il to score from third. Ryu Ji-hyuk dumped a single to shallow right for a 3-0 lead, chasing Dykxhoorn from the game in the process.
Jung Soo-bin then greeted the new pitcher Choi Yeong-hwan with a two-run double that put the Bears ahead 5-0.
Along with the Wyverns and the Bears, the Kiwoom Heroes are technically still in contention for the regular season title. As of Wednesday’s game, the Heroes are two games behind the Wyverns at 84 wins, 57 losses and a draw.
However, of the three teams, the Heroes have the least chance of winning as they have just two regular season games remaining - a two-game series against the Giants on Friday and Saturday.
But it could still work out for the Heroes. If the Wyverns lose all four of their remaining games, the Bears lose at least three and the Heroes pick up two wins. It’s a long shot, but stranger things have happened in the KBO.
The LG Twins and NC Dinos have now finalized their postseason spots.
BY KANG YOO-RIM, YONHAP [email@example.com]