Rare tiebreaker game set up to determine KBO regular season champs
It's not quite a "win or go home" deal, but there is still plenty on the line for the KT Wiz and the Samsung Lions, as they head into a rare tiebreaker game in South Korean baseball on Sunday.
After the 144-game regular season in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) ended Saturday, these two clubs were deadlocked at the top with a record of 76-59-9 (wins-losses-ties).
They each won their regular season finales -- the Wiz over the SSG Landers 8-3 and the Lions beating the NC Dinos 11-5 -- to set up the tiebreaker at 2 p.m. Sunday at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
The winner will be awarded the regular season title and a bye to the Korean Series, which starts on Nov. 14. With the postseason starting Monday with the wild card game, the regular season champions will have nearly two full weeks off to recuperate and prepare for the best-of-seven championship series.
The tiebreaker loser will take the No. 2 seed and advance directly to the best-of-three second round in the postseason.
This is only the second tiebreaker for first place in league history. In 1986, the OB Bears and the Haitai Tigers met in a best-of-three tiebreaking series after tying for the best record in the second half of the season. Back then, top teams in each half of the season met in the Korean Series.
Since the KBO did away with the setup, the season series record served as the tiebreaker. Most recently in 2019, the Doosan Bears and the SK Wyverns finished their 144-game campaign at 88-55-1, but the Bears were awarded first place after going 9-7 against the Wyverns 9-7 in regular season meetings.
The tiebreaker was reintroduced ahead of the 2020 season. There was no need for it last year but it will now send two fan bases into a frenzy for a wild finish.
The Lions will host the game by virtue of winning the season series 9-6-1. Unlike regular season games, there will be no ties, and the teams will play on until the winner is determined.
Also, individual statistics accumulated from this game will not count toward players' regular season totals.
The Wiz joined the KBO as an expansion team in 2015. They made the playoffs for the first time last year and are now one win away from making their first Korean Series.
In Saturday's win, veteran starter Ko Young-pyo made a surprising appearance from the bullpen to help lock down the victory.
Two days after throwing a season-high 109 pitches, the right-hander came on in relief of starter So Hyeong-june in the sixth inning, with the Wiz comfortably up 8-2. Ko tossed three innings of one-run ball, striking out four and making 42 pitches while saving the bullpen for Sunday's game.
Ko said afterward he'd only agreed to move to the bullpen hours before the game and added, "I felt good, and I thought it'd be a good opportunity to help the team."
"I'd never pitched in such an important game in my career, and my palms got sweaty as I was waiting for my turn," Ko said. "But once I got on the mound, I wasn't that nervous at all."
When told he'd thrown 42 pitches, Ko said, "I had no idea. I was just concentrating on each and every pitch."
For the Lions, first baseman Oh Jae-il starred in a pivotal moment, as he smoked a go-ahead, two-run home run in the fifth inning to give his team a 5-4 lead. The Lions never trailed again.
The 35-year-old veteran has a ton of postseason experience from his days with the Bears, including 36 games in the Korean Series alone. For Sunday's game, Oh called on his teammates not to get caught up in the moment.
"The bigger the game is, the more aggressive you should be," Oh said. "If we all think we can be the hero, we'll have the result in our favor. We're excited to play in front of our home fans."
Source: Yonhap News Agency