A time-worn baseball adage says pitching and defense win championships. Four games into the championship final in South Korean baseball, though, you can forget about at least the pitching part.
The Samsung Lions and the SK Wyverns are knotted at 2-2 in the best-of-seven Korean Series. And whoever claims the Korea Baseball Organization crown, it will likely be in spite of their pitching, because the series has turned into a home-run slugfest.
This is the third straight Korean Series between these two teams, and much like the previous two meetings, this one was expected to come down to pitching, in particular the teams’ bullpens.
Over recent seasons, these two have built a fairly simple winning formula: build a lead, call the bullpen at the earliest possible moment and let multiple relievers take care of a narrow victory.
Game 5 starters: Samsung’s Yoon Sung-hwan (left) and SK’s Yoon Hee-sang (Yonhap News)
Regular season numbers bore out the strength of their relief pitching.
SK was 19-13 in one-run games, the league’s best winning percentage. The Lions were 72-2 in games in which they had a lead through seven innings, also the KBO’s highest winning percentage in that situation.
Through the first four games, though, there hasn’t yet been a memorable outing, either by starters or relievers. Instead, there have been plenty of homers.
Nine balls have left the yard, already three more than last year’s Korean Series, which ended in five games for the Lions. And almost all of the nine home runs have been meaningful shots that have either given teams a lead or started a rally.
The Lions’ Lee Seung-yeop hit a two-run shot in their 3-1 victory in Game 1. Then in the next game, Choi Hyung-woo hit a grand slam, only the third ever hit in the Korean Series, as the Lions won 8-3.
The Lions appeared well on their way to a third straight victory in Game 3, as Choi belted a three-run shot to stake the team a 6-1 lead after three. The Wyverns fought back with three home runs of their own, including a three-run blast by Kim Kang-min in a six-run sixth inning, and ended up taking the game 12-8.
The Wyverns were at it again in Game 4 on Monday. Samsung starter Mitch Talbot was perfect through 3 1/3 innings, and then Park Jae-sang got SK’s first hit of the game with a solo homer. Choi Jeong, the next batter, launched another solo home run for a 2-0 lead. The Wyverns prevailed 4-1 to even the series.
The fifth game will be played at Jamsil Stadium, a neutral venue in Seoul, at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Under a KBO rule designed to draw more fans, if a team with the home field advantage in the Korean Series plays at a park with a capacity smaller than 25,000, Games 5 through 7, if necessary, come to Jamsil, which seats 27,000 in the country’s biggest market. (Yonhap News)