Having once been in the driver's seat to take the Korean Series, the Doosan Bears suddenly find themselves on the brink of a historic collapse against the surging Samsung Lions.
And the Bears don't have anyone but themselves to blame, for it's their own inability to drive in runners in scoring position that has hurt them.
The Bears have lost a 3-1 series lead in the championship final for the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), having dropped the fifth and sixth games of the best-of-seven showdown.
They must defeat the Lions on the road here at Daegu Stadium, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to avoid becoming the first team to blow a 3-1 series lead and lose the Korean Series.
Earlier in the series, the Bears capitalized on the Lions' epidemic failure to bring in runners in scoring position. Over the previous two games, though, the Lions' offense came to life as the Bears turned futile at the plate.
They lost Game 6 on Thursday 6-2, despite outhitting the Lions 9-8. They drew six walks and two hit-by-pitches, but stranded 14 runners in the game.
Their only two runs came on a pair of solo home runs. They wasted two bases-loaded opportunities, and the Lions made them pay with their late charge.
The Lions' starter Rick van den Hurk served up a leadoff home run to light-hitting Jeong Su-bin, and after getting two outs, issued two straight walks.
The Bears could have blown open the game right from the start, but Son Si-heon grounded out to short to end the first-inning rally.
Van den Hurk lasted only one inning and had to leave the game with pains in his right biceps. Right-hander Bae Young-soo relieved him to start the second inning, but he hit two batters and gave up a single to load the bases with two outs.
Kim Hyun-soo helped out the Lions, however, by flying out to left.
The Bears loaded them again in the third, after a single, a double and a one-out walk, but Choi Jae-hoon hit into a rally-killing double play.
That gave the Lions a new life, and they tied the score in the bottom third with a sacrifice fly.
Choi Jun-seok's home run in the fifth put the Bears ahead by one again. They had a chance to increase their lead, but with a man on second with one out, Lee Jong-wook struck out swinging and Choi Jae-hoon grounded out to third.
The Lions went ahead for good on Chae Tae-in's two-run home run in the sixth, and Park Han-yi added a three-run shot in the seventh for the final blow.
Cleanup Choi Jun-seok has been the one-man wrecking crew for the Bears. He's gone 6-for-8 with three home runs and four RBIs in the past two games, but the Bears lost both of them. All three of his home runs have been solo blasts.
First baseman Oh Jae-il, batting fifth, has also been productive, going 3-for-7 with two RBIs and two walks in the last two games.
After Thursday's loss, Doosan manager Kim Jin-wook lamented struggles of hitters in front of the two sluggers.
"I am most disappointed that we didn't have anyone on base when we hit home runs," Kim said. "Choi Jun-seok and Oh Jae-il have been swinging the bat really well, and I was hoping the guys in front of them would get on base. The Lions had a two-run home run and a three-run home run, and things didn't quite work out for us."
Kim said he felt the Bears had the momentum early in the game, when the Lions' pitchers were struggling to locate the strike zone.
"Through the first six games, their relief pitchers were all taxed, and in the beginning, I felt we could get the job done," Kim said. "We couldn't capitalize on some early opportunities, and that was our undoing." (Yonhap News)