Doosan Misses their Chance to Celebrate at Home, Series Heads Back to Daegu

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As the Doosan Bears make the long four hour bus ride back to Daegu, they certainly must be shaking their heads and imagining what might have been. There was an air of electricity last night at Jamsil Stadium. The Bears, almost inconceivably, had a chance to take down the reigning champions and heavily favored Samsung Lions in front of their home crowd.  The Bears had their ever trusted Noh Kyung Eun on the mound. A few days earlier, Noh was brilliant, shutting down the heavy hitting Lions in Game 1 of the Korean Series. The Bears were threatening to shock the peninsula and become the first 4th place team to snatch the KBO crown. Unfortunately, things did't turn out that way and now they head back to the Lions’ den, where Samsung will be trying to become the first team in KBO history to come back from a three games to one deficit.

After a short weather delayed start, it appeared that nerves had gotten the best of Noh Kyung Eun. With the end of their season staring them in the face, Samsung came out swinging. Before most of the sold out crowd of over 25,000 were able to settle in their seat last night, Samsung had a 3-0 lead. After retiring the first two hitters, Samsung first sacker, Chae Tae In launched an opposite field shot to put the Lions on the board. Noh seemed rattled after receiving a new ball. He was touched for four straight hits as chants of “An-ta” came streaming down from the Samsung faithful. Three first inning runs seemed to be exactly what the Lions needed.

After being shutout over the final 8 innings on Monday night, it was imperative for the Bears to get on the board and respond to the Lions first inning outburst. Samsung starter Yoon Sung Hwan had struggled earlier in the series and Bears Manager Kim Jin Wook apparently felt the urgency to make something happened in the first.  In an unorthodox move, Kim decided to send base runner Jeong Su Bin with two outs. The team trailed by three runs and had home run hitter Choi Jun Seok at the plate. Conventional wisdom says that trailing by three early with your “Big Man” at the dish, you let him swing away and hope he drives one out of the park. Instead, Kim was aggressive, and sent Jeong Su Bin. It turned out to be the wrong decision as Jeong was thrown out by a foot.  The poor decision was further accentuated when Choi Jun Seok indeed delivered a long, no doubter of a homerun to lead off the bottom of the second. The deficit was cut to 3-1 but, the Bears must have been thinking, “oh, what could have been!”

The Bears showed fight all night in what turned out to be a thrilling Game 5. After a Choi Hyung Woo 3rd inning homerun gave Samsung a 4-1 lead, the Bears responded immediately. The big hit came from Oh Jae Il. The big first basemen sent a rocket up the gap in left field that scored Kim Hyun Soo and Choi Jun Seok. The shot tied the game and Jamsil Stadium was literally rocking on its foundation. That will be the moment that the Bears will undoubtedly think of on the drive down to Daegu. In that moment, vicotry seemed unavoidable. As the first baseline of fans exploded waving their white Bears flags, and Oh Jae Il stood at second, punching his fist in the air, it was hard not to notice the slumping shoulders of the Lions players. The men in blue jerseys seemed shocked. After losing the large early lead, they seemed destined for defeat. Samsung then called on their young fireballer Ahn Ji Man. Ahn was able to induce an inning ending double play off the bat of Son Shi Hyun and miraculously, the game stayed tied moving into the 4th.

Each team traded runs in the 5th, an RBI from Samsung’s Park Seok Min and another mighty blow from the Bears’ Choi Jun Seok made it 5-5. Tension was thick as the game moved into the 8th. Finally, the Lions broke through. With runners on 2nd and third and one out, Park Han Yi, who was not having a good Series at the plate, scooted a chopper passed the outstretched gloves of the drawn in infield. The single scored two and for now, saved the Samsung season.

The Bears fought hard all night but were not able to rebound from this final deficit. The famed Samsung bullpen was once again too strong. Oh Seung Hwan once again displayed why he is a favorite to move to the Major Leagues next season. His fastball blew past the Bears hitters in the 9th at over 150 kmph. Ha Gyeong Min was able to punch a 2 out single to right that gave the Bears’ faithful momentary hope but infielder Kim Jae Ho was greatly overmatched as Oh recorded the final strikeout and his second save of the series.

All of a sudden, the Lions have new life. They are headed back home, where they have enjoyed many victories over the past few championship seasons. The Bears, who were “oh so close” to closing out the improbable, now must be a little concerned. As the underdog, they’ve enjoyed playing “pressure free” baseball so far in this series. Everything has now changed, their pressure is immense. It would be an extreme let down to their Doosan owners and vocal fans if they became the first team ever to blow a 3-1 lead. Their hope now rests with the Lion Slayer, Dustin Nippert. Nippert has pitched under pressure before as a member of the major league Texas Rangers, but he has never before had an opportunity to close out a championship. As the series shifts back to Daegu Thursday night, the Bears need to put the thoughts of what could have been behind them. They still find themselves in a good position, two days to win one game.