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For both teams in Korean Series, still plenty of baseball left

All Headlines 08:54 November 11, 2014

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- The two finalists in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) championship series appear to be heading in opposite directions, as they get ready for what could be the decisive game Tuesday.

The Samsung Lions have their fourth consecutive Korean Series title within reach thanks to their dramatic, 2-1 walk-off victory Monday. Their opponents, the Nexen Heroes, are reeling from such a heartbreaking loss and may not recover in time to stave off elimination.

Yet the managers of both teams said the Korean Series is far from over, and that there's still plenty of baseball left.

The Lions seem to have all the momentum on their side. With two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 on Monday, cleanup hitter Choi Hyoung-woo doubled down the right-field line off closer Son Seung-lak for the game-winning, two-run double. The hit gave the Lions a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven set.

On the opposite end, the Heroes came within a strike of taking the 3-2 series lead themselves and reaching the brink of their first-ever title. They were unable to hold on to their slim, 1-0 lead in the ninth, wasting a solid start by Henry Sosa and valiant relief pitching by Son.

Samsung manager Ryu Joong-il has won three titles in his first three seasons. He said after Monday's win things haven't gotten any easier for the three-time defending champs.

"The road to the fourth straight title is really difficult," he said. "We'll go all out in Game 6 and try to finish the series."
Ryu will send right-hander Yun Sung-hwan to start Game 6. Yun got the victory in Game 2 after holding the Heroes to one run in seven innings. With a "there's no tomorrow" mindset, Ryu said he will be more than willing to go to his bullpen early.

Setup man An Ji-man has been credited with two out of three Samsung wins so far. He tossed two perfect innings Monday and needed only 21 pitches to get through them. Ryu said An is in top form and should be ready to take the mound again Tuesday.

The Lions could have won Monday's game more easily had they been able to capitalize on earlier chances. Most glaringly, they couldn't score in a no-out, bases-loaded chance in the bottom eighth. Three straight Lions batters failed to hit the ball out of the infield.

The Lions also fell victim to some spectacular defense by Nexen right fielder Yoo Han-joon. He made an excellent running catch at the right center wall in the second to save at least two runs, and then outdid himself with a highlight-reel diving grab in the third to keep the Lions off the board.

Manager Ryu said his players found a way to win because of their postseason experience.

"I have to say experience does come into play on this stage," he said. "They also had their chances and missed. Things weren't going our way early, but we were able to win because our player have been there, done that."

The Lions have retained the core of the teams that won the past three championships. And for Park Han-yi, the KBO's all-time leader in Korean Series hits, RBIs, runs scored and total bases, this is his ninth Korean Series.

Ryu insisted in big games like these, veterans will have to step up. He also said he hoped the two struggling hitters, Lee Seung-yeop and Park Sok-min, can finally come through.

Park and Lee had batted fifth and sixth in the first four games, and Ryu flip-flopped them for Game 5, hoping to spark some offense from them.

The strategy didn't work, as Lee and Park were a combined 0-for-6. For the series, Park, a .315 hitter during the regular season, is batting 1-for-16, while Lee, who batted .308 in the regular season, has gone 2-for-18.

As disappointing as Park and Lee might have been, Nexen manager Yeom Kyung-yup had a far tougher day in the office Monday. For the second time in the series, they couldn't hold on to a 1-0 lead in late innings.

In Game 3, they led 1-0 in the top eighth, but the Lions tied it up on a single that landed in no man's land in shallow center. Then Park Han-yi's two-run home run in the top ninth put the Lions up for good.

In Game 5, the loss was more devastating, as it came with two outs in the bottom ninth. Yeom tried his best to put on a brave face and said the game was already behind the Heroes.

"It is disappointing, but our players did their best and the game is over now," Yeom said. "We will try the best we can the remainder of the series."

The Heroes lost Game 5 with their best relief pitcher on the mound. Right-hander Son got out of the no-out, bases-full jam in the eighth, but the third out of the ninth proved ever so elusive.

Yeom admitted the tough loss hit his team hard, and it may be difficult to bounce back.

"We will have to shake this off and get ready to play," he added. "I think experience made the difference. If we'd won (Monday), it would have made us even stronger. In the postseason, teams have to win those seesaw matches."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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