The Lotte Giants players celebrate after defeating the SK Wyverns 4-1 of the baseball playoff series on Friday. (Yonhap News)
BUSAN (Yonhap) – The Lotte Giants defeated the SK Wyverns 4-1 on Friday to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five second-round playoff series in South Korea's top baseball league.
The winner will face defending champion Samsung Lions in the Korea Series. The Lions, who won the league title last year, received the bye to the Korean Series by virtue of finishing first in the regular season.
In Friday's match at Sajik Stadium in Busan, the Giants' starter Ko Won-jun held the Wyverns to just three singles, while the bullpen kept the opponents at bay the rest of the game. The Giants now sit one win away from clinching this round of playoffs to reach the Korean Series.
They can finish off the Wyverns in Game 4 scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Sajik. Right-hander Jin Myung-ho will start for Lotte, and SK will counter with Puerto Rican right-hander Mario Santiago.
Game 5, if necessary, will shift to Munhak Stadium, the Wyverns' home in Incheon. SK holds the home field after finishing second in the regular season. The fourth-seeded Giants got past the No. 3 Doosan Bears in the opening round to reach this stage.
The Giants quickly went up 1-0 after opening the game with three straight singles. Then with runners on first and second, Jeon Jun-woo, who had four hits Lotte's Game 2 victory Wednesday, drove in the second run of the inning with another single.
In the bottom third, Lotte built a 3-0 lead, as Kang Min-ho lined a single to center and Hong Sung-heun came around from second to beat the throw home with a head-first slide.
The Giants capitalized on a rare defensive miscue in the sixth by right fielder Cho Dong-hwa, who appeared to lose a routine liner by Moon Kyu-hyun in lights. The ball rolled to the warning track and allowed Hwang Jae-gyun to trot home from first to make it 4-0.
Lee Ho-joon hit a double off the left-center wall to drive in SK's only run of the game in the top eighth.
In the top sixth, the Wyverns put runners on first and third.
Kim Sung-bae, Lotte's reliever who got the win Wednesday with 2 2/3 scoreless innings, struck out Lee Ho-joon and got Park Jung-kwon to pop out to center.
The Giants' starter Ko Won-jun pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings and struck out four to earn his first career playoff victory. Kang Young-sik threw 1 1/3 innings for the save.
Song Eun-beom lasted four innings in his start for the Wyverns, giving up three runs on six walks to take the loss.
The Giants made a pair of key defensive plays in the top fourth. Right fielder Son A-seop made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Lee Ho-joon of a sure double with a runner on first. Then with two outs, third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun snared a hard-hit grounder to close out the inning.
Son and Hwang each got two hits at the plate.
This is the rematch of last year's second round, when the Wyverns, then seeded third, knocked out No. 2 seed Giants in five games.