KT Wiz players celebrate their 6-1 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 2 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Entering this year's Korean Series against the Doosan Bears, the KT Wiz only carried two players with prior experience in the South Korean baseball championship stage.
One was 40-year-old designated hitter Yoo Han-joon, who'd played in one in 2014. The other was backup catcher Hur Do-hwan, who'd only been a part-time player in the 2014 and 2018 Korean Series.
Compare that to the Bears, who are playing in their seventh consecutive Korean Series. Other than rookies, virtually everyone has some experience competing under the brightest of spotlights.
However, the Wiz have been playing like they've been here before, winning two straight games in the best-of-seven series through Monday thanks to some spectacular plays on defense and timely hits on offense. The Bears, on the other hand, have looked jittery at times, gripping the bats tight at the plate and botching routine plays on the field.
KT manager Lee Kang-chul attributed the team's early success to heightened focus.
"I've always been pleased with our defense, and the guys have been playing with strong focus," Lee said. "Our players are making plays and taking swings like business as usual. I find it hard to believe most of them had no Korean Series experience before."
While most of KT players hadn't been in the Korean Series before this year, this year's team already went through a pressure-packed situation: a first-place tiebreaker game on Oct. 31 against the Samsung Lions.
The Wiz and the Lions finished the 144-game schedule with an identical record, 76-59-9 (wins-losses-ties). So they clashed on the last day of last month to determine who would win the regular season crown and thus earn a bye to the Korean Series. The loser would have to play in the penultimate round in the postseason for a chance to reach the Korean Series.
It would be the biggest game in the Wiz's young franchise history, which dates back to 2015. After all, the team that earns a direct ticket to the Korean Series has won the championship about 80 percent of the time.
With starter William Cuevas throwing seven shutout innings on two days' rest and Kang Baek-ho knocking in the only run, the Wiz held on for a 1-0 win.
"I think playing in that tiebreaker game has done wonders to our club," Lee said. "That was such a dramatic win, and I've had good feelings about our chances (in the Korean Series) ever since. We've been riding positive vibes from that victory."
Kang, the Wiz's youngest everyday player at 22, has stood out with both his bat and glove. He has not been retired in this series, having reached the base a record-tying eight straight times with five hits and three walks. He started two of the Wiz's four double plays at first base.
"I've been really impressed with Baek-ho's defense," Lee said. "He has made some difficult plays at first. And at the plate, he has been trying to stay within himself and make all the necessary adjustments."
The Korean Series resumes with Game 3 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, back at the dome. (Yonhap)