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Managers, players for baseball playoff clubs express confidence in series win

All Headlines 15:49 October 07, 2012

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 7 (Yonhap) -- Managers and players of the two contestants in the opening playoff round in South Korean baseball both expressed confidence they would clinch the series victory on Sunday, a day before their first matchup.

The Doosan Bears and the Lotte Giants will clash in the first round playoff round in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) starting Monday. The Bears, which finished third in the regular season, will hold the home field advantage over the fourth-seed Giants in their best-of-five series.

The Bears, based in Seoul, will host the first two games plus the fifth game, if necessary, at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. The Giants, based in Busan, about 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, will host the third and, if necessary, the fourth game at Sajik Stadium. Weekday games will start at 6 p.m., and weekend matches will begin at 2 p.m.

At a media day event held Sunday at Jamsil, managers of the two teams each said their club will emerge victorious in the end.

"Our players battled all year to finish in third place," said Kim Jin-wook, the Bears' manager. "In the playoffs, our club has long been known as the team of miracles. We will try to create more miracles this year."

The Bears ended the regular season with 68 wins, 62 losses and three ties. They're back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Yang Seung-ho, the Giants' manager, said his players will take their lessons learned from the regular season into the playoffs.

"We had a great start to the season and stumbled through September and October," said Yang, whose team suffered two losing streaks of seven games and then five games to fall from second in September to fourth in October. They ended with a 65-62-6 record to make their fifth straight playoffs.

"It taught us just how difficult baseball can be," Yang added. "But I think our players have learned a lot from that, and they will take care of business in the playoffs."

The Bears have the edge in head-to-head meetings this season, with 10 wins, eight losses and one tie.

Dustin Nippert, former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher, will start the opening game for the Bears. Right-hander Song Seung-jun, who once pitched in the U.S. minor leagues, will take the mound for the Giants.

Nippert went 11-10 with an earned run average (ERA) of 3.20 this year, his second in the KBO. He was 3-1 against the Giants with a 2.13 ERA, with two complete games.

Song went 7-11 with a 3.31 ERA, and failed to reach double figures in victories for the first time since 2007. He closed out the season on a strong note, however, giving up just one earned run in his final 19 1/3 innings over three starts.

Two players from each team accompanied their managers for the media day. Kim Hyun-soo, Doosan's left fielder, said he has the utmost faith in his starting pitchers.

"We've been an offensive team in the past, but this year, our pitchers have carried us into the postseason," said Kim, a career .319 hitter who put up a .291 average this season. "As long as we score first, I think our starters will preserve that lead for the victory. I believe all of our starters will throw three complete game shutouts in this series."

Lee Yong-chan, who will likely start the second game for the Bears, enjoyed a career year with 10 wins and a 3.00 ERA, both personal highs. Best known for his sinking fastball, Lee said, "I've got my major weapon, and I will face Lotte hitters heads on."

Lotte's catcher Kang Min-ho, who led the team with 19 home runs, said the Giants have put their late-season swoon all behind them.

"It was a struggle toward the finish, but we know we can only go up from here," he said. "We will prepare the best we can and try to have fun playing postseason baseball."

Son Ah-sup, the sparkplug for the Giants' offense, topped the KBO with 158 hits this season. Kang singled him out as the key player for Lotte in the opening round, and Son said he is looking forward to facing "the best starting rotation in the league."

"I will consider this a great challenge," the outfielder said. "Doosan will not be an easy opponent."

These two clubs also met in the first rounds in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the Bears dropped the opener but won the next three games to advance. The following year, the Bears lost the first two games, but then won three straight to eliminate the Giants.

Players from the two teams said, however, that times have changed and the past success won't guarantee wins this time.

"That was then, and this is now," Kim Hyun-soo of the Bears said. "We have a lot of new faces this year. We will try not to press too much and to instead enjoy this experience."

Son of the Giants said the third time will be the charm for his club.

"I think we're due for a win this year," he said. "Whatever happened in the past is in the past."

Both clubs had solid pitching and middling offense in the regular season. In the bullpen, the Bears will count on former MLB reliever Scott Proctor, who recorded 34 saves in his first KBO season.

The Giants' closer, Kim Sa-yool, also had 34 saves, but he had a 4.50 ERA in September, his worst monthly ERA of the season.

Despite Kim's recent hiccups, Yang, his manager, said he still has faith in the right-hander, though he will be flexible in how he employs his relievers.

"As a manager, this has given me the biggest headache," Yang said of his closer situation. "I still believe in Kim for what he's done for us all year. Plus we have Chong Tae-hyon in the wings."

In Chong, Yang was referring to a veteran submarine pitcher who helped the SK Wyverns win three championships as their closer between 2007 and 2010.

In the eight-team KBO, the top four teams in the regular season reach the postseason.

The regular season champion earns a bye to the championship Korean Series. The No. 3 and the No. 4 teams play in the first round, with the winner going on to meet the No. 2 regular season club in the second round, which is also best-of-five.

The Samsung Lions, defending champions, finished first for the second straight regular season and have reached the Korean Series. The Wyverns, seeded second, are awaiting the winner of the Bears-Giants series in the next round.

In 21 first-round playoff series so far, the team that won the first game reached the next round 18 times. The three exceptions have all come in the last three years.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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