(LEAD) Twins relievers deliver clutch performance after starter falters in Korean Series

SEOUL, For the LG Twins, the opening moments of Game 2 of the Korean Series against the KT Wiz on Wednesday looked rather dire.

Twins starter Choi Won-tae walked two of the first three batters he faced, and ended up getting charged with four runs on two hits and two free passes. Choi only retired one batter before handing the reins to the bullpen. The Twins were down 4-0 before they knew what had hit them.

LG Twins reliever You Young-chan pitches against the KT Wiz during the top of the sixth inning of Game 2 of the Korean Series at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 8, 2023.

But that bullpen, with one pitcher after another pumping strike after strike, held the Wiz off the board over the final eight innings. And that allowed the lineup to pull off a stunning 5-4 victory at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul.

The series that could easily have gone 2-0 in favor of the Wiz is now tied at 1-1, with Game 3 coming up Friday at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, south of Seoul, on Friday.

Before the game, Twins manager Youm Kyoung-youb singled out Choi as the key player of this game, Youm needed a long outing from Choi, just as Game 1 starter Casey Kelly had given them 6 1/3 solid innings in a 3-2 loss.

The plan went awry before it even took off, with Choi getting the hook after one out in the first. It abruptly turned into a bullpen game for the Twins, but few could have predicted it would be such a successful one.

Yi Jung-yong, the first pitcher out of the pen, let two inherited runners score for a 4-0 Wiz lead. But Yi pitched around a couple of hits in the second to prevent further damage. A baserunning miscue by Cho Yong-ho, who was thrown out trying to stretch a double to a triple, also helped.

LG Twins reliever Ham Deok-ju pitches against the KT Wiz during the top of the eighth inning of Game 2 of the Korean Series at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 8, 2023.

Sidearmer Jung Woo-young worked a clean third and got one more out in the fourth before passing the baton to Kim Jin-sung. Kim issued a one-out walk to load the bases, before retiring the next two batters.

Baek Seung-hyeon looked a bit wobbly in the fifth, giving up a hit and a walk, before You Young-chan cleaned up the mess by striking out Moon Sang-chul to end another Wiz threat.

You went on to retire the next six batters in a row, as the Wiz's bats went completely cold.

By the time You finished the top of the seventh, the Twins had cut the deficit to 4-2, behind a single by Austin Dean in the third and a solo shot by Oh Ji-hwan in the sixth.

Then in the bottom seventh, Kim Hyun-soo's double made it a one-run game at 4-3.

After Ham Deok-ju pitched a perfect eighth inning, which included two strikeouts, his catcher Park Dong-won stepped up big with a go-ahead two-run bomb in the bottom eighth.

LG Twins reliever Yi Jung-yong pitches against the KT Wiz during the top of the second inning of Game 2 of the Korean Series at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Nov. 8, 2023.

With the Twins nursing a 5-4 lead, closer Go Woo-suk was brought in to finish the superb job by the bullpen. Go was the scapegoat for the Twins on Tuesday night, when he allowed a tiebreaking double to Moon Sang-chul in the top ninth for a 3-2 loss. This time, Go struck out the first two batters before retiring Kim Sang-su on a groundout.

Go, after earning his first Korean Series save, said he was able to forget about Tuesday's loss quickly and get ready for the new game.

"Whatever happened yesterday was already in the past, and I wanted to concentrate on this game tonight," Go said. "I tried to relax a bit and keep throwing to Dong-won wherever he set his target."

Go said his earlier postseason failure had hardened him for moments like this.

"It wasn't just this year. I had some bad outings in the postseason before," Go said. "And I think having experiences like that helped me regroup after a loss like last night's."

All told, the seven relievers combined to strike out 10 batters over the final 8 2/3 innings while allowing just six hits and two walks.

Twins catcher Park Dong-won, the offensive hero with his eighth-inning homer, said his faith in Go never wavered.

"We were really well prepared for last night's game and Woo-suk just made one mistake with his curveball," Park said. "We tried to stay away from that pitch today. He has great stuff. He's one of the very best closers in this league."

As for catching eight different pitchers in this game, Park said, "I think the guys pitched even better than they did in the regular season. Back then, they would miss their spots from time to time, but there was none of that today. They were all locked in."

Park added that the sheer depth and diversity of the bullpen is one of the Twins' strengths.

"Hitters will have a difficult time going up against a different type of pitcher every time," Park said. "They all have different secondary pitches. And our pitch sequence worked out really well today."

In contrast, the seemingly impenetrable bullpen of the Wiz finally cracked Wednesday. Son Dong-hyun was charged with his first earned run of the postseason in his seventh appearance, as his two-out walk in the seventh set the stage for Kim Hyun-soo's RBI double off the next pitcher, Park Yeong-hyun.

Source: Yonhap News Agency