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Managers see bullpens as key to playoff victory

All Headlines 16:31 October 15, 2012

INCHEON, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- As the SK Wyverns and the Lotte Giants prepare for their baseball playoff battle, managers and players on Monday said their bullpens will hold the key to the victory.

The Wyverns will host the Giants at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Munhak Stadium in Incheon, just west of Seoul, to open their best-of-five playoff series in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

With the home field advantage, the Wyverns will host the first two games of the series and also the fifth game, if necessary. The Giants, seeded fourth, will host the third game and, if necessary, the fourth match at Sajik Stadium in Busan.

The Wyverns had the bye to this stage thanks to their second-place finish in the regular season. The Giants defeated the Doosan Bears in four games in the first round.

This is a rematch of last year's second round, when the Wyverns, then the No. 3 seed, knocked off the second-seeded Giants in five games. The Wyverns eventually lost to the Samsung Lions in the Korean Series.

At a media day event held at Munhak, Yang Seung-ho, the Giants' manager, said things will be different this time.

"We were the underdog in the previous round and beat the third-seeded club (Bears)," Yang said. "If we can stay calm and relaxed against the No. 2 team, I believe we will have a good series. We have such painful memories from last year, and I expect the players to come through this time."

The Wyverns last played a game on Oct. 6, the final day of the regular season. Lee Man-soo, their manager, said rust won't be a factor and their hard work and preparation will make for a "great and entertaining playoff series."

Lee will send left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun to start the first game. Yang and the Giants will counter with another lefty, Shane Youman.

Kim, a former most valuable player (MVP) of the KBO, was slowed by injuries this year and went just 8-5 with a 4.30 earned run average (ERA). He failed to pick up a win in four recent playoff starts, dating back to the first round series last year, but that did not discourage Lee.

"Kim Kwang-hyun is the face of this franchise," the manager said. "He is in better shape than he was a year ago."

Kim went 1-0 in two games against the Giants with a 2.53 ERA.

Youman, in his first KBO season, was even better against the Wyverns, with a 2-1 record and a 1.27 ERA. In his first KBO postseason appearance last week against Doosan, the American lefty pitched six solid innings, giving up only a run.

Behind Kim and Youman, however, both clubs have thin rotations. The Wyverns left their former Major League Baseball (MLB) right-hander Dave Bush off their playoff roster. The Giants did the same with Ryan Sadowski, who left his start against Doosan in the first inning with an apparent right forearm injury.

Lee Man-soo said his bullpen will plug any holes left by starters.

"Our bullpen boasts two great relievers, Park Hee-soo and Jung Woo-ram," Lee said of his setup man and closer, both left-handed. "If our starters can keep us in the game for five or six innings, our relievers will take care of the rest."

Park pitched in 65 games, going 8-1 with six saves and a KBO-record 34 holds, along with a 1.32 ERA. He struck out 93 batters in 82 innings. Jung recorded 30 saves and a 2.20 ERA in his first full season as the closer.

Yang, the Giants' manager, said with Sadowski gone, the playoff series will be "taxing for our relief pitchers."

The Giants bullpen is led by Chong Tae-hyon, a former closer for SK. Hampered by injuries, Chong only pitched in 24 games in the second half of the season, giving up two runs in 23 1/3 innings.

He was named the most valuable player (MVP) of the first round series, after picking up a win and two saves over four scoreless innings.

Accompanying their managers for the media day event, players for each team traded verbal jabs.

Hwang Jae-gyun, Lotte's shortstop, said the Giants will have the momentum behind them heading into the second round.

"We weren't sitting around waiting to see who our opponent will be," said Hwang, who batted .357 in the bottom third of the order in the first round. "We played and won playoff games, and we're a confident bunch now."

Jeong Keun-woo, speedy second baseman for SK with team-high 22 steals, said he will put his base stealing talents on display.

"I think it's important to get on base and run as much as I can," he said. "Of course, it'd also be helpful if hitters behind me like Choi Jeong (with team-best 26 home runs) and Lee Ho-joon (18 long balls) can drive in some runs, too."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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