In this file photo from Oct. 31, 2021, fans attend a first-place tiebreaker game in the Korea Baseball Organization between the KT Wiz and the Samsung Lions at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)
Two old rivals in South Korean baseball will reacquaint themselves with each other in the penultimate stage of the postseason starting Tuesday.
The Samsung Lions will host the Doosan Bears in Game 1 of the best-of-three second round at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
The second game will be at the Bears' home in Seoul, Jamsil Baseball Stadium, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. If the series goes the distance, Game 3 will be back in Daegu at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The winner will reach the Korean Series, where the KT Wiz, which had the best record in the regular season, are waiting.
The Lions earned a bye to the second round after finishing the regular season in second place. The Bears, as the fourth seed, beat the Kiwoom Heroes for the wild card and then knocked off the LG Twins in the first round to reach this point.
The Bears won the season series against the Lions 9-7.
This is the 10th postseason meeting between the two clubs, and their first since the 2015 Korean Series. The Bears prevailed in five games then to launch a run of six consecutive Korean Series appearances. They also won the title in 2016 and 2019.
For the Lions, that Korean Series loss ended a string of six consecutive appearances in the championship round, a run that included a four-peat from 2011 to 2014.
This is the Lions' first postseason since 2015. The Bears have been in every postseason since 2015 and are now two wins away from becoming the first KBO club to reach the Korean Series in seven straight years.
Six years are an eternity in sports. From the 2015 championship team for the Bears, only six players were on the roster for the previous series against the Twins.
From that 2015 Lions squad, five are still with the team.
One Doosan carryover is the 2015 Korean Series MVP Jung Soo-bin. Jung also won the first-round MVP on Sunday after batting 6-for-13 with five RBIs in three games. He also made some spectacular plays in center field in Sunday's clinching game.
Oh Jae-il, the Bears' first baseman in 2015, is now playing for the Lions. After switching teams as a free agent last winter, Oh put up 25 home runs, 97 RBIs, and a .285/.366/.512 line for the Lions.
The Bears were able to eliminate the Twins despite a depleted pitching staff because they scored a bunch of runs. The Bears collectively hit .306/.395/.423 with 10 extra-base hits and four steals in that series.
But facing Samsung's pitching will present a whole new challenge. The Lions have three excellent starters who all finished in the top 10 in regular season ERA.
And one of the trio, David Buchanan, will toe the rubber in Game 1.
Buchanan tied for the KBO lead with 16 wins and finished sixth with a 3.10 ERA. He had a 1-1 mark and an 8.00 ERA against the Bears.
Three Doosan hitters had multiple hits off Buchanan during the regular season, including Yang Suk-hwan, who also had the lone Doosan homer against the American right-hander.
The Bears will counter with Choi Won-joon, the only viable full-time starter left in a rotation missing both foreign pitchers, Ariel Miranda and Walker Lockett, to injuries.
Choi was the Bears' best starter against the Lions during their regular season, going 3-0 in four meetings and allowing only a run in 25 innings for a 0.36 ERA.
Among the Lions' big boppers, Oh Jae-il went 1-for-9 with three strikeouts, and Jose Pirela, who led the club with 29 home runs, was 0-for-8 with four Ks.
Tuesday's game will be the first postseason game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park, which opened in 2016, just after the Lions' dynasty collapsed.
Since the Korean Series will be played entirely at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul as the neutral venue, the Lions will only play a maximum two games at their home stadium.
The Lions last played on Oct. 31 in the first-place tiebreaker game against the Wiz. Manager Huh Sam-young said the Lions have used their down time to recover while also trying to stay sharp for game action.
"In a short series, the most important thing is to keep the other side from building early momentum," Huh said. "I've told my players to keep playing our game and to execute what we've been working on. The Bears are a great team, but we're well prepared." (Yonhap)