Doosan Bears defy odds to snatch KBO pennant
Heading into their final game 0.5 games behind the Wyverns, the Bears had to beat the NC Dinos to win the regular season title.
The Bears didn’t get off to the best start at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul, as starting pitcher Seth Frankoff gave up two runs in three and one third of an inning to give the Dinos a 2-0 lead.
The Bears had multiple chances to score but it wasn’t until the fifth inning that they started to catch up when Park Kun-woo hit an RBI single to help bring the Seoul team back into the game.
The Bears were finally able to tie the game at the end of the seventh, when a series of errors from Dinos pitcher Kim Geon-tae gave them their second run.
But the Dinos didn’t give up. They quickly made up for the errors by scoring three runs at the top of the eighth inning.
It seemed as if the Bears had lost their shot at winning the regular season, but a remarkable bottom of the eighth tied things back up.
Park Sei-hyok started the inning with a ground out followed by a single from Kim Jae-ho. Then, with a few base knocks and some errors from the Dinos’ infielders, the Bears added three runs of their own to tie the game once again.
The top of the ninth finished without the Dinos scoring, and then the Bears went on the offensive.
After a fly out from Oh Jae-il, pinch hitter Kook Hae-seong hit a double. With Kim Dae-han brought on for Kook as a base runner, Bears’ catcher Park Sei-hyok stepped up to the plate to finish the game with a walk-off RBI single.
With Park’s hit, the Bears finally took the lead for the first time in the game 6-5 to win the regular season title.
“I’m very proud of our players,” said Bears manager Kim Tae-hyung. “Since our players worked so hard throughout the season, the regular season victory is very meaningful. All of our players are aware of how to prepare for the Korean Series.”
Pitching just one inning, Lee Young-ha picked up his 17th win of the season.
The win allowed the Bears to finish their regular season at 88 wins, a draw and 55 losses, tied with the Wyverns. However, as the Bears are ahead of the Wyverns in the head-to-head standing for the season, the Bears were declared the champion.
Tuesday’s results will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most dramatic endings to regular season in KBO history. Not only did the Bears beat the Dinos without even threatening to take the lead until the very last hit, but they snatched the pennant from the claws of the Wyverns who had dominated the KBO for the entire season. At one point, the Wyverns were a seemingly unassailable nine games ahead of the Bears.
This was only the third time in KBO history that the winning team has been finalized on the very last day of the season. Even more dramatically, the Bears are the first team ever to win with a 0 game difference.
Not only in terms of game difference, but the Bears’ regular season victory is even more miraculous because just a month ago, the Wyverns set a passed 80 wins after a game against the Samsung Lions on Aug. 30. Not hugely surprisingly, the Wyverns are now the only team ever in KBO history to reach 80 wins first but not go on to win the pennant.
The Bears will now progress to the Korean Series for a fifth straight season while the Wyverns will have to compete in the second round of the playoffs.
With a fifth consecutive appearance in the Korean Series, the Bears are now on the second-best streak in KBO history, beaten only by the Lions and Wyverns. Both teams reached the championship six times in a row, the Lions from 2010 to 2015, and the Wyverns from 2007 to 2012.
Now that the regular season has come to an end, the winners of the individual titles have also been finalized. The Bears’ Jose Fernandez won the KBO’s batting title as he finished the season with 197 hits while Josh Lindblom won three titles - wins, with 20, winning percentage, at 0.870, and strikeouts, at 189.
Lindblom’s success this season has made him a likely candidate for regular season MVP.
In ERA, Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers made an impressive comeback in the second half of the season to win the title at 2.29.
In batting, Yang Eui-ji of the Dinos stood out as he also topped the league in three categories - batting average at 0.354, on-base percentage at 0.438 and slugging percentage at 0.574. Yang became only the second catcher, after Lee Man-soo in 1984, to top the league in batting average.
Aside from Yang and Fernandez, the third-place Heroes also dominated the batting titles. Kim Ha-seong won runs at 112 while Jerry Sands topped the league in RBIs at 113 and Park Byung-ho won the home run title with 33.
With the conclusion of the regular season, the KBO’s postseason will officially kick off today with the first Wildcard game.
The Dinos claimed fifth place, just making it into the postseason as they face the LG Twins in the Wildcard game today. As the Dinos clinched the last postseason spot at fifth, they are at a disadvantage from the start.
The Wildcard series can run to two games, but in practice the chances are slim. The Dinos enter the first game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium with a one-game penalty in the series, meaning that even a tie would see the Twins advance.
In its first Wildcard game, the Twins will start Casey Kelly while the Dinos will start Christian Friedrich. Looking at the two’s seasonal head-to-head record, they are tied at eight wins and eight losses.
The winner of that series will face the Heroes in the first round of the playoffs which will be played in a best of five format. The winner of that series will go on to face the Wyverns in the second round, also a best of five, and the winner of that series will face the Bears in the seven-game Korean Series.
BY KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]