|The Doosan Bears' Choi Jun-seok (No.10) celebrates with his teammates after hitting a solo home run in the 13th inning of a KBO post season game against Nexen Heroes on Monday at Mokdong Stadium, Seoul. The Bears defeated the Heroes 8-5 to take the fifth and deciding game of the first round. (Yonhap News)|
The Doosan Bears defeated the Nexen Heroes 8-5 in extra innings on the road on Monday to advance to the second round in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason, holding off a frenetic late charge by their opponents in one of the most thrilling playoff games in the league's history.
At Mokdong Stadium, Choi Jun-seok and Oh Jae-won each hit a home run in the Bears' five-run 13th inning, after their team blew a 3-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Lee Taek-geun of the Heroes hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the 13th, but it was too little, too late for the first-time playoff entrants.
The win completed the Bears' ferocious comeback from a 2-0 series deficit.
The Bears lost the first two games of the series on walk-off hits at Mokdong, before claiming the next two at their home, Jamsil Stadium. Four of the five games were decided by one run.
The Bears became only the second team, after the 2010 Bears, to erase a 2-0 series deficit to take the opening round in the KBO postseason since the series expanded from best-of-three to best-of-five in 2008.
In the next round, the Bears will meet the LG Twins, who share Jamsil Stadium with Doosan as their home park, in the next round. The Twins earned the bye to the second round thanks to their second-place finish in the regular season.
The last playoff meeting between the two Seoul clubs came in 2000, when the Bears prevailed in six games.
The Bears were one out away from beating the Heroes 3-0, but Dustin Nippert, usually a starter who was making his second relief appearance of the series, served up a three-run home to Park Byung-ho in the bottom ninth to send the game into extra innings for the third time this series.
After Nexen stranded runners in scoring position in the bottom 10th and 11th, Choi Jun-seok finally put the Bears ahead with a pinch-hit solo home run off Kang Yoon-gu, Nexen's fifth pitcher to lead off the top of the 13th.
Kang walked the next batter before being replaced by Lee Jung-hoon. Min Byeong-heon then dropped an RBI double down the right field line to make it a 5-3 game.
Then with two outs and runners on first and second, Oh Jae-won launched a three-run blast over the right field to take the suspense out of what had been a taut game.
Yun Myung-jun, Doosan's fifth pitcher, earned the victory despite giving up a run in one inning of work. Kang Yoon-gu took the loss after giving up two earned runs without retiring a batter in the top 13th.
The Heroes had a chance to walk off in the bottom 10th, with runners on first and second with two outs, but Seo Geon-chang grounded out to second.
Then in the bottom 11th, Park Byung-ho hit a two-out double but Kim Min-seong struck out in what turned out to be the Heroes' final rally.
They opened the bottom 13th with two straight walks, but Moon Woo-ram, lead runner at second, was doubled up on Oh Yoon's line drive to first. After Lee Taek-geun's home run, Park hit a fly to right for the final out.
The Bears wasted a dominant start by their rookie left-hander Yu Hui-kwan, who held the Heroes without a hit through seven innings.
The Rookie of the Year candidate, in his second start of the series, retired the first 11 batters he faced, and fanned five straight batters at one point.
The soft-tossing left-hander topped out at 135 kilometers per hour (84 miles per hour) with his fastballs, and threw slow curveballs at around 100 kilometers per hour. Nexen hitters never found their groove against him, however, as they kept flailing away at his breaking balls.
Yu left the game after Kim Min-seong broke his no-hit bid with a single to start the bottom of the eighth, having thrown 109 pitches, 73 of them for strikes. He struck out nine and hit a batter. Only three balls left the infield against him.
Lee Won-seok gave Yu an early cushion with a three-run shot in the top fourth off Nexen starter Brandon Knight. It appeared to be all the support Yu and his relievers would need on this night.
The Heroes tried to rally after Yu left the game, putting runners at the corners with one out after a single and a ground out against reliever Byeon Jin-soo. Yoo Han-joon, however, hit a chopper right back at Byeon, who started the inning-ending double play.
The home team refused to go away, opening the bottom of the ninth with two straight singles off Byeon.
Then Nippert relieved Byeon, and promptly struck out the first two batters he faced. One out from clinching the series, though, Nippert threw three straight balls to Park before the slugger jumped on his high fastball.
The Heroes failed to build on the momentum in extra innings, and their bullpen suffered a meltdown in the 13th. (Yonhap News)