GWANGJU -- Ahead of South Korean baseball's championship series, managers and players for the two finalists threw down the gauntlet Tuesday.
The 2017 Korean Series, the championship final for the Korea Baseball Organization, will open Wednesday as the Kia Tigers host the Doosan Bears at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju 330 kilometers south of Seoul.
The Tigers were the regular season champions who earned the bye to the Korean Series. The Bears, who finished in second place, knocked out the NC Dinos in four games in the previous round to reach their third straight Korean Series.
The Tigers' last title came in 2009. The Bears are trying to become the third KBO club to win at least three consecutive titles.
At the media day in Gwangju, Kia manager Kim Ki-tai said his team, coming off a three-week layoff since the end of the regular season, is ready to go for the franchise's 11th championship.
"To make this league more entertaining, we can't have one team win every year," he said, taking a jab at the Bears' bid for a "three-peat." "We'll try to foil their bid and keep things more interesting."
His counterpart, Kim Tae-hyung, said the one big advantage his club has over the Tigers is big game experience.
Participating managers and players for the 2017 Korean Series baseball championship pose with the trophy during the media day at Chonnam National University in Gwangju on Oct. 24, 2017. From left: Doosan Bears` first baseman Oh Jae-il, pitcher Yoo Hee-kwan and manager Kim Tae-hyung; then Kia Tigers` shortstop Kim Sun-bin, manager Kim Ki-tai and pitcher Yang Hyeon-jong. The best-of-seven series begins Wednesday at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju. (Yonhap)
"Most of our players have won the past two titles together," Kim said. "I'd like to promise our fans we'll bring home a third straight title."
The Tigers will start right-hander Hector Noesi in Game 1, and left-hander Yang Hyeon-jong will follow in Game 2. Both were 20-game winners in the regular season. Kim Ki-tai quipped that he chose Noesi to start the opener because he was going by the players' height -- Noesi is listed at 191 centimeters, 8 centimeters taller than Yang -- but noted that it will take a team effort to beat the Bears.
"Even though we only had seven wins in our 16 regular season meetings this year, I think we played them really tight," the manager added. Those seven wins came along with eight losses and one tie. "I won't single out any player," he continued. "I expect everyone to contribute and play their best."
Yang said he paid particular attention to the Bears' offensive outburst against the Dinos in the previous round. The Bears scored 50 runs and hit 12 home runs, led by Oh Jae-il, who hit a postseason-record four home runs in Game 4 and had five long balls for the series to win the MVP honors.
"Jae-il was better than I'd expected him to be," Yang said. "But I am not going to pitch around him and other hitters. I am going to attack the zone and be aggressive."
Oh himself said staying aggressive at the plate will be the key.
"We've got a lot of great hitters on our team," he said. "If we can keep swinging the bat the way we have been, we should have a great chance."
The Bears' vaunted starting pitching, on the other hand, left much to be desired. The four-man rotation of Dustin Nippert, Chang Won-jun, Michael Bowden and Yoo Hee-kwan failed to pick up a win. Only Nippert and Chang pitched into the sixth inning.
But Yoo said Tuesday he and his rotation mates have already forgotten about the previous series.
"We'll try to live up to our fans' expectations in this series," Yoo said. "The Tigers have a great lineup from top to bottom, but it's not so much about whom we face. As long as we trust our stuff and pitch with confidence, we should be fine."
In sweeping the Dinos in last year's Korean Series, the same four pitchers held the opponents to one earned run in 29 1/3 innings.
Yoo spoke of "a ton of experience" for his team. The Tigers's shortstop Kim Sun-bin, the regular season batting champion, said his club has something else that the Bears may not have.
"I think we may be more desperate for a title," said Kim, who was with the Tigers but didn't make the Korean Series roster in 2009. "I am feeling 100 percent healthy and hopefully I'll be able to maintain that form in the series." (Yonhap)