Lotte hasn’t given up on the postseason just yet, as they wrapped up a three-game weekend series against SSG with a sweep. SSG and Lotte, the league’s “distribution rivals,” finished the season with 8 wins and 8 losses this year.
Lotte won the first game of the Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League 2023 against SSG at SSG Landers Field in Incheon on Thursday, 8-1, thanks to a strong pitching performance from starter Aaron Wilkerson and an active batting lineup led by Han Dong-hee. Seventh-place Lotte (60-67) continued its slim postseason hopes. Meanwhile, SSG (64W62L2T), which had narrowly snapped a three-game losing streak the day before, failed to rebound and continued its recent poor graph.
Lotte starter Wilkerson earned his fifth win of the season (2-2), allowing one run on three hits (one homer) and three walks with seven strikeouts over six innings. It was his ninth quality start (six or more innings and three or fewer earned runs) in 11 games since joining the team as a reliever, and he kept his season ERA under one (1.89). Wilkerson used a fastball that topped out at 148 mph on the day (38 pitches), a cutter that topped out at 144 mph (28 pitches), and a mix of sliders (18 pitches), changeups (11 pitches), and curves (11 pitches) to keep SSG batters off balance. After a first-inning homer to Shin-Soo Choo, he didn’t allow a run.
The bullpen was also strong. In the seventh, Shim Jae-min pitched a scoreless inning, and in the eighth, Shin Jeong-rak struck out the side in order. Kim Do-kyu took over in the ninth inning with a comfortable lead.
In the batting lineup, Han Dong-hee, who was moved to the No. 2 spot, shined. She had two hits on the day, including a solo shot in the fifth inning. The veterans and the bottom of the order were also strong. Jeon Jun-woo had one hit, one walk and two runs scored, while Jeong Hoon went 4-for-4 with two hits, one walk and two runs scored. Gudrum kept the momentum going with three hits in the sixth spot in the batting order, while Jung Dae-sun showed off his uncharacteristic power with two hits, a walk, and three RBIs. Eleven of the team’s hits came from the five through nine spots in the batting order, including two hits from Son Sung-bin and two RBIs from Ahn Kwon-soo. In total, Lotte pounded the SSG mound with 14 hits on the day.
On the other hand, SSG’s starter Moon Seung-won was unable to sustain his early momentum, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits (one home run) in 4 1/3 innings. Jong-hoon Park, the second pitcher brought in as a relief pitcher, was the worst of the bunch, giving up one run on three hits and three walks in 0 1/3 innings. Choi Min-jun threw 2⅓ innings, throwing 35 pitches and giving up one run, and Lee I-roon pitched a scoreless inning, but had no offensive support. In the ninth, Shin gave up two runs (one earned) in one inning.
The offense continued to struggle with six hits, with only four coming in the eighth inning. Leadoff hitter Choo Shin-soo had a solo home run and a walk in the first inning, and Choi Hang had two hits and a walk, but the rest of the offense was ineffective. Besides Choi Shin-soo and Choi Hang, Oh Tae-gon, Kim Sung-hyun, and Hanyusum added one hit apiece.
With Choi out of the starting lineup, Lotte favors young blood
SSG removed Choi Jung, the team’s top hitter and one of the best hitters in the league, from the starting lineup for the 24th game due to back pain. Choi was replaced by Kim Chan-hyung during the game against Incheon Lotte on the 23rd after suffering back pain. It wasn’t serious, but he needed to rest.
SSG, which had fielded a nine-man right-handed starting lineup against left-hander Charlie Barnes the day before, had almost all of its main left-handed hitters back. Choo Shin-soo (designated hitter) returned to the leadoff spot, while Oh Tae-gon (first baseman), who had a good performance the previous day with three hits, batted second to set the table. Without Choi, the center field lineup consisted of Choi Joo-hwan (second base), Heredia (left field), and Han Yu-seom (right field).
The bottom of the order was Kim Kang-min (center fielder), Choi Hang (third baseman), Kim Sung-hyun (shortstop), and Lee Heung-ryun (catcher). Kim Kang-min, who had a multi-hit game the day before, started first, while Choi Hang filled in for his brother Choi Jung. Lee Heung-yeon paired up with Moon Seung-won.
Moon Seung-won hasn’t been playing well lately. In his last five games, he was 1-2 with a 7.97 ERA. However, he redeemed himself in his last outing, pitching eight innings of three-run ball against Hanwha in Daejeon on April 19, leading his team to victory. The difference is that he hasn’t pitched well against Lotte this year, with a 6.00 ERA in six appearances and a 1-7 record with a 5.86 ERA in 22 career appearances.
Lotte also didn’t field a lineup with 100 percent strength. With starting shortstop Noh Jin-hyuk out of the lineup for the third day with a sore back, Dong-hyuk Kim (right field) filled the outfield spot left vacant by Yoon Dong-hee’s call-up to the national team. Kim also played leadoff on the day. Acting head coach Lee Jong-woon, who has been watching Kim since the second team, expressed his expectations for Kim as a player with qualities in many areas.
Lotte started with Kim Dong-hyuk (right fielder) in the leadoff spot and Han Dong-hee (third baseman) at second, followed by Lee Jung-hoon (designated hitter), Jeon Jun-woo (left fielder), and Jeong Hoon (first baseman) in the center, with Gudrum (shortstop), Jeong Dae-sun (second baseman), Son Sung-bin (catcher), and Ahn Kwon-soo (middle infielder).
Starter Aaron Wilkerson had been enjoying a successful career since joining Lotte as a replacement foreign player. In 10 games and 60⅔ innings pitched, he has a 4-2 record with a 1.93 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. In his last five starts, he’s been just as good, going 2-2 with a 1.74 ERA. In his last two outings against SSG, he has also pitched 12⅔ innings with a 1.42 ERA. Lotte has been a reliable hill.
Choo Shin-soo blasts a home run to start the game, but Lotte takes control in the middle innings
SSG, who had escaped a losing streak with a hard-fought win the day before, got off to a good start in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo lined a 144-kilometer-per-hour cut fastball from Wilkerson for a two-run shot that traveled 174.9 kilometers per hour (174.9 mph) into the right-field bleachers. It was Shin-Soo Choo’s 11th home run of the season and his seventh “leadoff home run” of the season.
The home run also tied a record in KBO history. The previous record for most leadoff home runs in a single season was seven, set by Lee Jong-beom in 1997. Choo Shin-soo now needs just one more home run in this situation to tie the all-time record.
SSG’s lead didn’t last long, however. Lotte tied the game back up in the bottom of the second inning. In the bottom of the second, Goodrum led off with a single to right. He fouled off a slider from Moon Seung-won. The next batter, Jeong Dae-sun, also slid a slider to right field, putting runners on first and second. From there, Son Sung-bin lined a single to left that went between the third baseman and shortstop to make it 1-1.
However, Lotte retired Ahn Kwon-soo in order in the next at-bat, and SSG put runners on first and second after Choi Hang and Kim Sung-hyun drew back-to-back walks in the second inning, but Lee Heung-ryun grounded out to shortstop. SSG added a run in the third inning when Oh Tae-gon singled to left, but there was no follow-up hit. SSG managed to get Wilkerson to throw more pitches, but they were unable to capitalize.
Then, Lotte rallied to tie the game at 1-1 in the fourth inning. The veterans opened the scoring. Jeon Jun-woo led off with a single to left-center, and when Jeong Hoon came to bat, the run-and-hit sign worked like a charm, with Jeon advancing to third on a single to right field. Gudrum struck out, but Jeong stole second and Dae-sun Jung was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Son Sung-bin then hit a pitch that got heavy in front of the right fielder and became a hit. With the runner on third, Han Yoo-seom’s throw bounced in front of catcher Lee Heung-ryun, who couldn’t catch it and it rolled backwards. Meanwhile, Jung Hoon, who was originally on second, stole third and scored to make it 3-1. Moon Seung-won got Ahn Kwon-soo to fly out to left field and pinch-hitter Kim Min-seok to ground out to short, but he was unable to avoid the two-run fourth inning.
Han Dong-hee’s cannon finally bursts, and Lotte’s volcanic hitting takes down SSG
SSG battled back in the fourth inning, with Choi Hang leading off the inning with a single to right, but was stranded when Kim Sung-hyun flied out to center field. Lotte then added two more runs in the fifth inning to take a 3-1 lead. Han Dong-hee, who had been in a home run drought for a long time, opened the cannon. Leading off the fifth inning, Han hit a solo shot (her fifth of the season) over the center field fence off Moon Seung-won to score a valuable run. It was her first home run since July 13 against NC.
In the top of the fifth inning, SSG pulled Moon Seung-won and brought up Park Jong-hoon as the second pitcher, but the move completely failed. Jong-hoon gave up a walk to Jeon Jun-woo with the bases loaded. The ball did not enter the zone. He then gave up a single to Jung-hoon to left. So far, so good, but he couldn’t compete with Gudrum and gave up a walk to load the bases, and he gave up a push single to Jung Dae-sun to score another run.캡틴토토
SSG quickly switched Jong-hoon back to Choi Min-joon to close out the fifth inning, but with a 1-5 deficit, it wasn’t going to be easy to catch up. Choo Shin-soo’s single in the top of the fifth inning came to nothing as he failed to get a follow-up hit.
In the top of the seventh inning, Jeong Hoon led off with a walk, Goodrum singled up the middle to put runners on first and third, and Jeong Dae-sun drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to right field. After Wilkerson pitched through the sixth, Shim Jae-min took over the mound in the seventh, and Shin Jung-rak retired the top of the order in order in the eighth for a 6-1 lead.
Lotte’s momentum was not lost until the final inning. In the top of the ninth, Goodrum hit a double down the left-field line, and Jung Dae-sun followed with a single up the middle to make it 7-1. Son Sung-bin followed with a grounder that was not caught by third baseman Choi Hang, extending the opportunity to runners on first and second.
LOTTE loaded the bases when Ahn Kwon-soo drew a walk. Kim Min-seok grounded out to first base, but Lee Hak-joo drove in a run with a pushing double to make it 8-1. The SSG offense remained lethargic until the end.