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SEOUL, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) — On the first day of the 2022 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season on April 2, SSG Landers starter Wilmer Font tossed nine perfect innings against the NC Dinos.

Font fell short of the first perfect game in league history, as he was pulled after those nine flawless frames and the Landers scored four times in the top of the 10th for a 4-0 win. Reliever Kim Taek-hyeong issued a walk but didn’t give up a hit in his one inning of work, as he and Font threw the combined no-hitter.

That dominant performance was a sign of things to come.

The Landers went on to win nine more games in a row after that, tying the record for the longest winning streak to begin a season. They rode that hot start to the regular season title, which was secured Tuesday when the second-place LG Twins lost to the Kia Tigers by 8-3. The Landers will now head straight to the Korean Series, scheduled to start at the end of October.

The Landers, at 88-49-4 (wins-losses-ties), hold a four-game lead over the Twins, who cannot catch the Landers even if they win their remaining five games.

The Landers are the first team in KBO history to go wire to wire for the regular season title. That Opening Day win put them in a five-way tie for first place and they never once fell from the top over the next six months.

In addition to that 10-game run at the start, the Landers have enjoyed winning streaks of at least three games 13 other times. They have not lost more than three games in a row at any point this season.

This was the franchise’s second season as the Landers, following Shinsegae Group’s takeover of the SK Wyverns.

Before their inaugural campaign, the Landers acquired former major league All-Star Choo Shin-soo, who gave them instant credibility as a no-nonsense leader and a consummate professional.

After falling half a game out of the final postseason spot last year, the Landers were at it again in the offseason, this time bringing back a franchise icon in left-hander Kim Kwang-hyun.

Kim had spent the past two years with the St. Louis Cardinals and rejoined the only KBO franchise he’d known after becoming a free agent in the majors. And in his age-34 season, Kim has been better than ever, pitching to a league-best 1.99 ERA while going 13-2 in 27 starts. His ERA has hovered over 2.00 just once all season.

Font showed some signs of fatigue in August and has not won since July 30. But his recent starts have been encouraging and he still boasts a 2.69 ERA, seventh-best in the league.

The Landers were quick to cut bait with their two other, slumping foreign players early this season, and both moves have paid off handsomely.

Former New York Yankees ace Ivan Nova lasted only a dozen starts in the KBO, going 3-4 with a 6.50 ERA. HIs replacement, Shawn Morimando, has been excellent since joining the Landers in July, with a 7-1 record and a 1.67 ERA in 12 starts.

After getting 11 home runs and a .222/.255/.420 out of Kevin Cron in 67 games, the Landers cut him for Juan Lagares. The former National League Gold Glove-winning outfielder has also made an impact with his bat, giving his new team a .315/.362/.464 line in 49 games.

Rookie first baseman Jeon Eui-san pushed Cron out of the lineup with his hot bat early in the season. He has cooled off in the second half, but his .341/.418/.681 line in the first half was a huge part of the Landers’ early success.

The 35-year-old slugger Choi Jeong had just two home runs in April, but he now finds himself ranked third in the league with 26 dingers — his seventh consecutive campaign of at least 20 and 16th straight season of reaching double digits in that category.

Through Monday’s action, the Landers were leading the KBO with 716 runs scored and 135 home runs.

Their bats have stayed hot in late stretches, too, with their 140 runs scored and 35 home runs in 25 games since Sept. 1 also leading the league in that span.

But their bullpen has been dismal over that same stretch, holding the team to just a .500 record at 12-12-1 despite the explosive offense.

They have lost only eight games after leading through seven innings, but four of those losses have come in their past 25 games.

Also since Sept. 1, the Landers have the league’s worst bullpen ERA with 7.36. Their relievers have been roughed up for the league-worst 13 home runs and given up 105 hits in only 80 2/3 innings over the past 25 games. No team has blown more saves than the Landers’ eight since the start of September.

By earning the direct trip to the Korean Series, the Landers will have more than three weeks off between their final regular season game and their first postseason contest. It will be ample time for the battered relievers to regroup and other banged-up bodies to heal up for the championship pursuit.

Teams with the direct ticket to the Korean Series have won the championship over 80 percent of the time, including 18 out of 20 times since 2002.

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