For Doosan Bears right-hander Dustin Nippert, postseason games in the Korea Baseball Organization are no different than regular season contests.
Of course, there's a lot more at stake in October than in, say, May. But at least Nippert is telling himself that they're all the same, in hopes of keeping some pressure off his shoulders.
The strategy just might have worked Wednesday in Game 1 of the Korean Series against the Kia Tigers. Nippert held the Tigers to three runs in six solid innings, as the Bears took the opener 5-3 at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. Nippert picked up his fifth career postseason victory.
Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears throws a pitch against the Kia Tigers in the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)
Asked if his mindset is any different in the postseason compared with the regular season, Nippert said he treats every game equally.
"I want to win my first start of the year, and my 10th start of the year. I want to win all of them," said Nippert, the 2016 regular season MVP. "I try not to put any more pressure on myself in these games. I have my routines, and I prepare the same way. I want to win every game I pitch."
The victory on Wednesday also provided a measure of redemption for Nippert. In the previous postseason series against the NC Dinos, Nippert got knocked around in Game 1, giving up a grand slam to Xavier Scruggs in the Bears' 13-5 loss on Oct. 17. Nippert was the losing pitcher after giving up six runs -- one unearned -- on eight hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings.
He didn't look particularly sharp in the early going on Wednesday, as the Tigers had a man on base in three of the first four innings. But he wiggled his way out of the jam each time, before giving up a three-run home run to Roger Bernadina in the fifth.
That turned out to be the only blemish for Nippert in that game.
It wasn't just Nippert who struggled in the previous round. None of the Bears' four starters -- Chang Won-jun, Michael Bowden and Yoo Hee-kwan being the others -- picked up a win in that series. None pitched into the seventh inning.
But Nippert said he and his rotation mates have put their adventurous series against the Dinos behind them.
"All four of us know we didn't pitch as well as we needed to or we wanted to," Nippert said. "But that's over with now. We can't worry about it because it's in the past. The guys are going to go out there and focus on their game."
Nippert didn't have his usual partner behind the plate in Game 1. Yang Eui-ji, normally the starting catcher, started as the designated hitter, as he's still nursing a back injury that kept him out of two games in the previous round. Yang's backup, Park Sei hyeok, got the starting nod, and Nippert was effusive about the 27-year-old backstop.
"Park did a tremendous job behind the plate," Nippert said. "We're very lucky to have two starting catchers. They really help our pitching staff a lot." (Yonhap)