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SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) — Eric Jokisch has been pitching for the Kiwoom Heroes since 2019, and his Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) club has never missed the postseason during his time here.

In an odd twist, though, the American left-hander has only been involved in the 2019 postseason, when the Heroes lost in the Korean Series. In both 2020 and 2021, Jokisch was not available for wild card games because he pitched in the regular season finale and didn’t have enough rest for the postseason. The Heroes were knocked out in the wild card phase before even having a chance to use their best starter.

This year, Jokisch will make his postseason return on Monday evening against the KT Wiz. The Heroes, by grabbing the third seed in the regular season, earned a bye to the best-of-five first round and didn’t have to go through the wild card series. Jokisch may have ceded the No. 1 job in the rotation to An Woo-jin, who led the league with 224 strikeouts and a 2.11 ERA in the regular season, and who pitched six shutout innings in an 8-4 win in Game 1 over the Wiz on Sunday. But the 33-year-old southpaw is just happy to be back on the mound in meaningful games in October.

“I am excited. It’s going to be nice to finally pitch in the playoffs,” Jokisch told Yonhap News Agency before Sunday’s game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. “I think I know a little bit more of what to expect. You really have to learn to control your adrenaline and I think having some experience going into this one is going to help a lot.”

After bagging the win in the series opener, the Heroes can really take a stranglehold with another victory Monday. But if the Wiz steal this road game, they will be going home all tied up with a chance to close out the series on their home turf in Suwon, just south of Seoul.

And that’s the kind of pressure that Jokisch embraces.

“You kind of want the pressure at this point. I mean, that’s the whole point of playing: to get to these playoff games that mean a lot,” Jokisch said. “And I don’t think any game is any more or less important at this point. Every game can shift a series so it’s exciting to be going into it and you kind of embrace the pressure of it.”

Jokisch was excellent against the Wiz during the regular season, holding them to one earned run in 20 1/3 innings over three starts. One of the keys to that was his ability to keep slugger Park Byung-ho, Jokisch’s former Heroes teammate, in check. Park led the KBO with 35 home runs this year but only went 1-for-9 with three strikeouts against Jokisch.

“I’d attack BH the way I do everybody. I try to find their weaknesses and try to make good pitches,” Jokisch said, trying not to give away his trade secrets. “I’ve had some success against him so far, but he’s obviously a really dangerous hitter that, if you make a mistake to the wrong spot, he can do some serious damage. So I’m going to continue to hopefully make my pitches and make them hit what I want to throw and we’ll see how it goes.”

Jokisch’s counterpart on Monday, Wes Benjamin, also had huge regular season success against the Heroes. The midseason arrival posted 0.78 ERA in 23 innings against them, along with a 2-0 record. Benjamin faced the Heroes more than any other opponent and even the familiarity among Kiwoom hitters didn’t do much good against the left-hander.

Benjamin made a spectacular postseason debut last Thursday in a wild card game against the Kia Tigers. He made a surprise relief appearance in the eighth inning, pitching on two days’ rest while trying to protect a 3-2 lead. And Benjamin rose to the occasion, as he struck out the Tigers’ 4-5-6 hitters, with a healthy diet of sliders and cutters.

With the bullpen cameo now behind him, Benjamin said he was glad to return to his normal starter routines.

“Taking it just like any other game,” Benjamin told Yonhap News Agency on Sunday, when asked about his preparation for Game 2 start. “Keeping everything the same. (It is) the same game, just a different atmosphere.”

Benjamin said he was pitching on “a good amount of adrenaline” in the wild card game and he was a little bit sore afterward, because he’d thrown a bit more than what he would normally have on a typical bullpen day.

“You get in a playoff atmosphere and you don’t realize how much more your body is working,” he said. “For me, everything felt really good and you don’t think about what the next step is. You think about the here and now. My goal and plan for that was to get out of the inning and help our team win and that’s what ended up happening. So I’m grateful for that.”

Benjamin signed with the Wiz in May, in place of injured starter William Cuevas. Benjamin had been pitching in Triple-A and spent his entire professional career in the U.S. before switching leagues and countries. Benjamin admitted the midseason transition was “definitely not an easy thing for guys to do” but his was made a lot easier thanks to the support system on the team.

“I’ve been able to trust my catchers and trust my coaching staff and manager to help me with game plans and figure out what I need to do,” he said. “And all I have to do is go out there and execute, so it’s a lot less stress and pressure on me. It’s more just about me playing against myself and not worrying about what else I need to do out there. That’s definitely the plan.”

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