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Kia Tigers win S. Korean baseball pennant

The Kia Tigers won the South Korean baseball pennant on Tuesday, the final day of the regular season.

The Tigers finished first among 10 clubs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season with a record of 87 wins, 56 losses and one tie, after defeating the KT Wiz 10-2 at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 40 kilometers south of Seoul.

The Tigers edged out the Doosan Bears (84-57-3) by two games for their first pennant since 2009.

Kia players celebrate their win of the pro-baseball pennant on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Kia players celebrate their win of the pro-baseball pennant on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

By virtue of having the best record over a 144-game season, the Tigers advanced directly to the Korean Series, the best-of-seven championship final starting on Oct. 24. They'll try to win their first Korean Series title since 2009.

The Bears lost to the SK Wyverns 3-2 Tuesday. If the Bears won and the Tigers lost, then the Bears would have taken the pennant thanks to a superior winning percentage.

This was the tightest pennant race in the KBO's 35-year history. Nos. 3 and 4 seeds will also be determined between the Lotte Giants and the NC Dinos later Tuesday, marking the first time that the seeding for the top four teams were all decided on the last day of the regular season.

Right-hander Hector Noesi picked up his 20th win of the season in Tuesday's victory, holding the Wiz to two earned runs over seven innings while scattering 10 hits and striking out six.

Noesi joined teammate Yang Hyeong-jong as the KBO's only 20-game winners this year. They're also just the second pair of teammates to reach that plateau in the same season. Kim Si-jin and Kim Il-yoong of the Samsung Lions each won 25 games in 1985.

The Tigers held an eight-game lead in first place at the All-Star break in mid-July at 57-28, but a summer swoon nearly cost them the pennant. They were just 10-11 in August and 12-11 in September. The Bears, two-time defending champs, went on a tear in the second half, climbing from fifth place to second after going 42-28-3 after the break.

The Bears got the bye to the second round playoff series, where they will await the winner of the first round action.

The Tigers won their first nine titles under different ownership, Haitai, in 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993,

1996 and 1997. Kia took over in 2001, and the Tigers won another title in 2009.

Remarkably, the Tigers were beaten in the Korean Series, winning championships in each of their 10 previous appearances.

The Tigers opened up their wallet last offseason and their investments paid dividends in 2017. They retained Noesi for a second season at US$1.7 million and signed slugging outfielder Choi Hyoung-woo to a four-year, 10 billion won ($8.72 million) contract in free agency.

Noesi, who led the team with 15 wins and 206 2/3 innings last year, topped himself with 20 wins while leading the KBO with 201

2/3 innings.

Choi, who finished runner-up in last year's MVP voting, was once again among the league's premier sluggers. He batted .342 with

26 homers and 120 RBIs, the second-highest total in the KBO. He also drew a league-high 96 walks.

The Tigers also parted ways with first baseman Brett Pill and replaced with Roger Bernadina, who responded with 27 home runs, 111 RBIs, 30 steals and a .319/.370/.542 line.

The Tigers kept Yang, a free agent, to a one-year deal worth

2.25 billion won, and the left-hander enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017.

The Tigers' front office kept busy during the season, and pulled off an eight-player deal with the Wyverns on April 7 that brought in outfielder Lee Myung-ki. The 29-year-old stepped into the leadoff role in the Tigers' lethal lineup, and finished the season with a .332 batting average and 63 RBIs, both new career highs.

The postseason play opens on Thursday with the wild card game between the No. 4 seed and the Wyverns. If the fourth seed wins or ties Thursday's game, then it will advance to the first round series against the third seed.

If the Wyverns win Thursday, then there will be another wild card game Friday at the same venue. The winner of that second game will move on to the first round series.  (Yonhap)


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