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Game of attrition

Lotte’s Chong Tae-hyon was the MVP of the KBO’s first-round playoff series against Doosan. (Yonhap News)
Lotte’s Chong Tae-hyon was the MVP of the KBO’s first-round playoff series against Doosan. (Yonhap News)
Before their teams met for the second round of the playoff series in the country’s top baseball league, Lee Man-soo, the manager of the SK Wyverns, and Yang Seung-ho, his Lotte Giants counterpart, talked about the importance of their bullpens.

The managers have been getting more than what they’d bargained for, however, as relief pitching has played decisive roles in the first two games of their best-of-five series.

The Wyverns and the Giants are locked even at one game apiece in the ongoing Korea Baseball Organization playoff series.

Both games have been decided by a single run.

The Wyverns took the first game 2-1 on Tuesday, and the way a veteran hitter drove in the winning run and the bullpen took care of the rest made this a classic SK playoff victory that KBO fans have become used to in recent seasons.

Park Jung-kwon, the Korean equivalent of “Mr. October,” drove in the go-ahead run in the sixth, and Park Hee-soo and Jung Woo-ram, arguably the league’s most lethal one-two punch in the setup and closer roles, slammed the door shut on the Giants.

The Giants won the second game 5-4 in 10 innings on Wednesday.

The Giants turned the table, scoring four runs off three SK relievers to erase a three-run deficit. The Giants’ third pitcher of the game, Kim Sung-bae, was credited with the win thanks to 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

The Wyverns took a 4-1 lead after Cho In-sung’s two-run double in the bottom of the sixth. As the Wyverns turned to their relief corps for the final stretch, the Wyverns’ cheering section along the first base line and right field bleachers buzzed with excitement for another victory.

The Giants had other ideas.

In the top of the seventh, Jeon Jun-woo greeted hard-throwing right-hander Uhm Jung-wook with an infield single.

After an error and a wild pitch moved Jeon to third, Moon Kyu-hyun drove him home with a groundout to make it 4-2.

Before Uhm could even catch his breath, Kim Joo-chan hit a screamer down the first-base line for a double that made it 4-3.

Uhm was gone.

Trouble still loomed. Park Hee-soo entered the game with one out in the sixth, and promptly gave up a pinch-hit single to Cho Sung-hwan that tied the game.

Jung Woo-ram, who notched a career-high 30 saves in the regular season, came on in the ninth with the score at 4-4.

He got out of the jam in the top of the ninth but ended up walking in the winning run with the bases loaded in the top of the 10th.

Lee Man-soo admitted he had planned to save Park Hee-soo for the seventh and eighth innings and send in Jung Woo-ram to finish out the game in the ninth. It went horribly awry when Uhm didn’t get the job done.

“We had a three-run lead, and I trusted Uhm, who had pitched well Tuesday,” Lee said. “That was my mistake.”

Lee singled out Uhm as the scapegoat from the second game.

“Park Hee-soo and Jung Woo-ram pitched OK,” the manager said.

“Uhm Jung-wook wasn’t so good at all. I will need to decide whether I will keep using him out of the bullpen (in this postseason).”

The Giants’ relievers did yeoman’s work, but they were far from perfect. That come-from-behind win conveniently masked the fact that perhaps the biggest pillar of their bullpen was off his mark.

Chong Tae-hyon, the former SK closer, was named the MVP of the first-round series against the Doosan Bears. Chong earned a win and two saves without giving up a run as the Giants knocked off the Bears in four games.

Chong on Wednesday gave up that double to Cho In-sung to allow the Wyverns to go up by three. The runs were charged to starter Song Seung-jun, who had allowed a single and a walk before leaving the game.

During the regular season, Chong gave up only two earned runs in 23 1/3 innings, both to the Wyverns.

His manager, Yang, said he had Chong’s back.

“I don’t really care that he gave up hits tonight,” Yang said.

“Pitchers can’t be perfect. His former team keeps getting hits off him, and Chong has to fight through that to become an even stronger pitcher.

“Tonight’s game doesn’t change the fact that Chong will be our key reliever in crunch time.” (Yonhap News)
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