The Kiwoom Heroes will be playing for the South Korean professional baseball championship for the first time in five years.
Kiwoom Heroes (Yonhap)
The Heroes routed the defending champions SK Wyverns 10-1 at home on Thursday to complete the three-game sweep in the second round Korea Baseball Organization playoff series.
The Heroes will go on to meet the Doosan Bears in the best-of-seven Korean Series, which begins next Tuesday at the Bears' home, Jamsil Stadium.
The Bears, after finishing with the best regular season record, advanced directly to the Korean Series and had been awaiting the winner of the second round.
The Heroes' No. 3 hitter, Lee Jung-hoo, was voted the series MVP after batting 8-for-15 with three RBIs, four runs scored and a steal. He batted 3-for-5 with two RBIs, two runs scored and a steal on Thursday, and earned 54 of 64 votes from the media.
Lee Jung-hoo (Yonhap)
Lee's father, Lee Jong-beom, won Korean Series MVP awards for the Haitai Tigers in 1993 and 1997. The Lees are the first father-son duo to win MVP awards in KBO postseason.
The Heroes exploded for five runs in the bottom fifth at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, as they avenged a five-game loss to the Wyverns in last year's second-round meeting.
The Heroes last played in the Korean Series in 2014, when they lost to the Samsung Lions in six games.
The Wyverns, who were shut out 3-0 in Game 1 but showed some fight in an 8-7 loss in Game 2, couldn't cash in on early opportunities. They left the bases loaded in the top of the first, and failed to bring anyone home after putting men at second and third with two outs in the third.
The Heroes made them pay for those missed opportunities in the three-run bottom third.
All three runs in that inning crossed the plate with two outs against starter Henry Sosa. First, it was Lee Jung-hoo knocking a two-run double to right field. Then Park Byung-ho brought him home with a single to left.
The opportunistic Heroes added a run in the bottom fourth.
With a man at third, Kim Kyu-min chopped one down the first base line and, instead of waiting to see if it would go foul, first baseman Jamie Romak fielded the ball.
Kim stopped about halfway down the line, and as Romak double-pumped in an aborted attempt to throw home, Song Sung-mun scored easily from third.
The Wyverns got one back in the top fifth, as Jung Eui-yoon's two-out RBI single cut the deficit to 4-1 and also chased starter Eric Jokisch from the game.
Reliever An Woo-jin came on to close out the inning, and it set the stage for the Heroes' outburst in the bottom fifth.
SK right-hander Jung Young-il came out of the bullpen with men at the corners with one out, and Lee Jung-hoo, the runner at first, stole second to take the double play out of the equation.
Jung intentionally walked dangerous Park Byung-ho to load the bases and face slumping Jerry Sands. But Jung ended up walking Sands on five pitches to run the score to a 5-1 Heroes lead.
With the bases still full, Song brought in two more runs with a single to right. Two batters later, Kim Kyu-min made it 8-1 Heroes with a single of his own. Then a fielding error by second baseman Jeong Hyun on a Kim Hye-seong grounder made it a 9-1 game.
When the dust settled, the Heroes had sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning and put up five runs on four hits, two walks and an error.
The Wyverns tried to mount a rally and packed the bases with one out in the top sixth for Bae Young-seop, who grounded into an inning-ending, series-killing double play.
The Heroes tacked on another run thanks to three consecutive singles in the bottom seventh, when No. 8 hitter Kim Kyu-min collected his third RBI of the night.
The Wyverns had the leadoff man on in four of the first six innings but the offense ended up scoring eight runs in three losses this series.
No. 3 hitter Choi Jeong went 0-for-4 Thursday and finished 0-for-12 for the series.
The Heroes' No. 3 hitter, Lee Jung-hoo, batted 3-for-5 with two RBIs, two runs scored and a steal on Thursday. He was 8-for-15 for the series.
The Heroes had production from up and down the lineup Thursday, with Song Sung-mun and Kim Kyu-min combining for six hits and five RBIs from No. 6 and 8 spots in the order.
Neither starter factored into the decision. Jokisch was one out away from qualifying for a win, as he held the Wyverns to a run on five hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked two.
Kiwoom Heroes (Yonhap)
The vaunted Heroes' bullpen held the fort once again, with five relievers limiting the Wyverns to just three hits over the last 4 1/3 innings.
Sosa was charged with four earned runs on five hits and a walk in three innings. (Yonhap)