Bears, Twins, Landers take early lead as KBO season begins
The Doosan Bears, LG Twins and SSG Landers top the table after the first two days of the 2022 KBO season, sweeping their respective series on opening weekend in front of packed crowds as stadiums returned to full capacity for the first time since 2019.
The Bears swept the Hanwha Eagles — 6-4, 1-0 — over the weekend at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul to tie for first place, sending the Eagles back down to unfortunately familiar territory at the bottom of the table.
The Twins took a resounding 9-0 win over the Kia Tigers at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on opening day, following it up with a much closer 3-2 win on Sunday to join Jamsil rivals Doosan in first place.
The Landers also had a strong start on the road, beating the NC Dinos 4-0 at Changwon NC Park in Changwon, South Gyeongsang on Saturday, and again 4-1 on Sunday.
The Landers came close to making history during the opening game on Saturday, when starter Wilmer Font came incredibly close to ringing in the KBO's 40th season with the league's first perfect game. The Venezuelan ace pitched nine perfect innings, sitting down 27 batters with 104 pitches and striking out nine.
Unfortunately for Font, the Landers needed 10 innings to get the job done, scoring all four of their runs at the top of the 10th inning. Rather than bring Font back on to continue chasing the perfect game, the Landers opted for reliever Kim Taek-hyeong.
Kim got the job done and the Landers walked away with a nice 4-0 win, but Font has to settle for being the first pitcher in the history of the KBO to pitch nine perfect innings, not the first to manage a perfect game.
Font is off to a flying start in his second year with the Landers. He finished the 2021 season with eight wins and five losses and a 3.46 ERA. His batting average against was the lowest in the league, at .211.
Further down the table the Samsung Lions and KT Wiz, who had to play a tiebreaker at the end of the 2021 regular season after finished tied for first, continued to be equally matched, taking one game each.
The reigning 2021 champions KT took the opening game 4-1, as long-standing ace William Cuevas kicked off his fourth season with the Suwon club with a win.
The Lions leveled the score in unusual fashion on Sunday, coming back from a 3-0 deficit with six runs batted in at the top of the ninth. KT added two runs at the bottom of the inning but were unable to respond to the onslaught, allowing the Lions to walk away with a last-gasp 6-5 win.
The Lotte Giants and Kiwoom Heroes also took a game each. The Giants started off the season on the right foot with a 7-2 win on Saturday, before slipping back to take a close 4-3 extra innings loss on Sunday.
The Bears also marked the retirement of much-loved former pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan on Sunday.
Yoo, famed as much for his exuberant personality off the field as his achievements on it, announced his retirement during the offseason. Yoo leaves the Bears with 101 wins and 69 losses and a career 4.58 ERA over 11 seasons with Doosan, and is the only left-handed pitcher in KBO history with over 100 wins.
The KBO returns Tuesday with the first three-game series of the new year as the 10 teams settle into the regular season format. The Lions will visit the Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, the Giants will face neighbors NC in Changwon, the Landers head to Suwon to take on the Wiz at Suwon KT Wiz Park, the Eagles and Tigers will play in Gwangju and the Twins and Heroes head to western Seoul for the first series at Gocheok Sky Dome.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]