Kia captures series with 9th inning blast
In a dramatic finish to the 2009 Korean Series, Kia’s Na Ji-wan slammed a towering 125-meter (410-foot) one-run blast over the left field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday with the game tied at five. It was only the second time in the history of the series that a game ended on a home run. The only other player to have done so was Ma Hae-young of the Samsung Lions in game six in 2002 against the LG Twins, managed by current SK manager Kim Sung-geun.
The 25-year-old sophomore received 41 of the 61 press votes to win the Korean Series Most Valuable Player Award over his teammate Aquilino Lopez. While Na had struggled in the series with three hits in 16 at-bats, he came up big with two home runs in game seven.
“As soon as the ball left the bat, I suspected it would clear the fence. That’s why I turned to my teammates on the bench. I don’t even recall where the ball ended up landing,” said Na in a post-game interview. “I had struggled in this series and was having doubts about maintaining my third spot in the batting order but my hitting instructor [Hwang Byung-il] gave me another opportunity. He told me that we could win it all if I hit two home runs in game seven and it actually happened.”
As soon as the ball jumped off Na’s bat in the bottom of the ninth, the crowd, anticipating a home run, went wild. Soon, tears streamed down the faces of grown men and Tigers supporters cheered with abandon as their team won its first series title in 12 years. Once the players gathered themselves, they trotted down the first baseline in their champion T-shirts and hats, waving.
Kia manager Cho Beom-hyun went over to the visitors’ dugout and bowed to SK’s Kim Sung-geun. Not only was it his first title, but Cho had started his coaching career under Kim. “All that entered my mind after Na’s home run was the thought that we won. I will remember this for a long time,” said Cho in a post-game interview. Cho also addressed the crowd with a message after the game through the loudspeaker. “I want to thank the fans who have supported Korean baseball. I also want to thank the SK club who tried their best until the very end.” The Tigers will have a shot at becoming the best club in Asia when they take on the Nippon Professional League champions on Nov. 14 in Nagasaki, Japan. SK, which had been hit with injuries all season, was without some of its key players but nearly made the improbable comeback complete after starting the series down by two games.
“I thought it was over when we lost the first two games against Doosan in the postseason and thought it would be difficult to climb back from a two-game deficit [in the Korean Series]. However, we came this far,” said SK manager Kim in a post-game interview.
In game seven, the Wyverns took the early lead off first baseman Park Jung-kwon’s two-run homer in the top of the fourth inning. In the ensuing two innings, SK built a comfortable 5-1 lead. However, in a game that featured a series record 14 pitchers - seven per team - SK’s depleted pitching staff could not hold off the Tigers. Na sparked the Tigers’ comeback in the bottom of the sixth when he hit a two-run homer off southpaw reliever Lee Seung-ho over the center field fence to make the game 5-3. The Wyverns went to Ken Kadokura, the game five starting pitcher. Kadokura received a hard blow as rookie Ahn Chi-hong hit his first Korean Series home run, a one-run blast, and in the process became the youngest hitter to bat a homer in the Korean Series. Kim Won-seob went on to single in a run to tie the game at 5-5. With the momentum on Kia’s side, SK went to its hefty reliever Chae Byung-yong in the ninth. Chae had started game four and was coming off a relief appearance in game six. Chae got Kim Won-seob, the first batter, to ground out. Then Na stepped into the batter’s box and the rest is history.
By Jason Kim [email@example.com]