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(LEAD) After breezy regular season, Doosan Bears crumble under championship spotlight

All Headlines 00:58 November 13, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS photo, comments, details)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 13 (Yonhap) -- Entering the 2018 Korean Series, the Doosan Bears, fresh off a dominant regular season, looked formidable on paper.

But once the series began, they looked anything but on the field.

The Bears lost in the Korean Series for the second straight year -- this time to the SK Wyverns in six games after falling 5-4 in 13 innings on Monday at home, Jamsil Stadium in Seoul.

No defeats are easy to bear, but this one should sting the Bears particularly hard.

In 2017, they finished second to the Kia Tigers in the regular season and lost to the same team in five games in the Korean Series, where they weren't generally considered the favorites.

Doosan Bears players take a bow before their cheering section at SK Happy Dream Park in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, after a 4-1 loss to the SK Wyverns in Game 5 of the Korean Series on Nov. 10, 2018. (Yonhap)

This year, the Bears ran away with the best record in the regular season at 93-51, 14.5 games better than the Wyverns. They advanced directly to the Korean Series and they were supposed to bulldoze whoever reached the best-of-seven final series.

But over these six games, the Bears didn't play like themselves, the swagger so palpable in stretches during the regular season nowhere to be found. They were tentative at the plate -- where reliable bats disappeared -- and on the field -- where they committed seven errors in six games, after making the league-low 77 in 144 regular season contests.

The hype surrounding the Bears was such that it was conveniently forgotten that the Bears feasted on lowly teams and only managed .500 records against playoff-bound opponents during the regular season.

Against the five non-playoff teams -- NC Dinos, KT Wiz, LG Twins, Lotte Giants and Samsung Lions -- the Bears were a combined 61-19, including a 15-1 record against the Twins. But the Bears split the season series at 8-8 with each of the four other playoff teams -- Kia Tigers, Nexen Heroes, Hanwha Eagles and SK Wyverns.

Granted, a win is a win, and the Bears just beat up on the teams that they were supposed to beat. But facing the Wyverns in the Korean Series, the Bears never seemed to be in control.

The lineup that set a regular season record with a .309 batting average wasn't the same in the Korean Series. In particular, reliable bats such as Park Kun-woo and Oh Jae-il disappeared. Park moved down from third to sixth in the lineup during the series, and Oh was taken out of the starting lineup during the series.

Josh Lindblom of the Doosan Bears (L) watches the game-tying solo home run by Choi Jeong of the SK Wyverns in the top of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the Korean Series at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 12, 2018. (Yonhap)

Park is a lifetime .334 hitter who batted 2-for-24 with nine strikeouts in the Korean Series. Oh put together an outstanding second half in the regular season, with 17 homers and 41 RBIs in 56 games. He batted .354 in the second half to finish the regular season at a respectable .279, but he failed to recapture that stroke in the Korean Series, where he batted 2-for-16.

The season-ending oblique injury to slugger Kim Jae-hwan came at the worst possible time for the Bears. Kim, after batting 4-for-8 with two doubles in the first two games, hurt his right side during batting practice before Game 3 and never returned to action the rest of the series.

The Bears were the only playoff club without a foreign hitter having decided not to replace Jimmy Paredes after releasing the slumping former major leaguer in June. They could clearly have used an extra bat with major or minor league experience.

Hitting woes weren't the only issues for the Bears. After committing the fewest errors in the regular season with 77, the Bears were charged with seven errors in the Korean Series -- including the two that led to three unearned runs in their 4-1 loss in Game 5.

Even manager Kim Tae-hyung said at one point during the series that his fielders seemed too tentative -- that infielders in particular were playing not to make mistakes instead of charging the ball with the same kind of aggression they showed in the regular season.

The Bears were trailing 2-1 in the series after three games but they appeared to get a huge break when Game 4, initially scheduled for last Thursday, was postponed by a day due to rain. That meant their top two starters, Josh Lindblom and Seth Frankoff, could be pushed up to pitch in Games 4 and 5, instead of Games 5 and 6, giving the Bears a chance to build a series lead coming back home.

Instead, they split those two starts by Lindblom and Frankoff, though both pitched outstanding games. Lindblom would have become a hard-luck loser if not for Jung Soo-bin's go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 for a 2-1 win. Frankoff struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings in Game 5 -- giving himself 19 in 13 innings in the series -- but his defense let him down with a costly error in the seventh inning, when the Bears saw a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit.

Lindblom and Frankoff made four starts combined and the Bears went 2-2 in those games.

Lindblom came out of the bullpen in Game 6, trying to preserve a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning, but he served up a game-tying solo shot to Choi Jeong with two outs that sent the game to extra innings.

In the 2017 Korean Series, it could be said the Bears got beat by a better team. But in 2018, with all due respect to the Wyverns, the Bears mostly beat themselves.

Kim Tae-hyung, the losing manager, thanked his players for coming this far.

"The manager has to take the responsibility for all results," Kim said. "I know the guys will find it hard to get over this, but they should put this behind them and try to get ready for next year."

Kim said he tried to learn from last year's Korean Series, but lamented that everything that could go wrong for his team, did.

"We'll try to pick up the pieces from these two losses and get better next year," he added. "Our goal is to stay in contention year in and year out."


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