NC Dinos claim Korean Series title with 4-2 win over Doosan Bears
The NC Dinos have finally done it.
By picking up a 4-2 win against the Doosan Bears in Game 6 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in western Seoul on Tuesday, the NC Dinos were named the 2020 Korean Series champions.
Heading into Game 6 with the Dinos leading the series 3-2, Bears’ starter Raul Alcantara and Dinos’ starter Drew Rucinski made sure to get their work done as they shut down the batters for the first four innings.
At the bottom of the fifth inning the Dinos broke the silence. After infielder No Jin-hyuk’s bunt out and a fly out by outfielder Kang Jin-sung, Alcantara only needed one more to toss another scoreless inning.
But that wasn’t to be.
Following the first two out counts, Alcantara allowed singles to outfielder Kwon Hui-dong and infielder Park Min-woo. Then, by allowing another single to outfielder Lee Myung-ki, the Dinos finally added the first run of the day.
The Dinos were just getting started. While the Bears continued to struggle at-bat, the Dinos didn't wait to add on more.
The bottom of the sixth once again started out with Alcatara striking out Dinos’ catcher Yang Eui-ji, but a double from Aaron Altherr and a single from infielder Park Sok-min allowed the Changwon club to extend their lead 2-0.
Following the second run, the Bears pulled Alcantara from the mound and brought in Park Chi-guk.
Park started out with a walk to No but quickly led Kang to hit a fly to get the second out. Another walk to Kwon took Park out the game and the Bears brought in Lee Seung-jin.
That change didn't help as Lee allowed a single to Park Min-woo, good enough to bring home both Park Sok-min and No to add two more runs to the scoreboard. With Park Min-woo’s two RBIs, the Dinos once again extended their lead to 4-0.
Despite being so far behind, the Bears didn’t give up too easily. At the top of the seventh inning they started to fight back. After two straight hit by pitches — to the Bears’ infielder Heo Kyoung-min and outfielder Jung Soo-bin — the Dinos finally earned an out with a grounder by infielder Choi Joo-hwan. But that allowed both Heo and Jung to move up a base.
Another grounder to outfielder Kim Jae-hwan brought Heo home. This was not only the Bears’ first run of the game, but also allowed the Bears to finally score a run for the first time in 25 innings in the Korean Series.
As the Bears failed to add more runs in the last two innings, the Dinos picked up a 4-2 victory in Game 6 to pick up their first-ever Korean Series title.
"I was just numb when we got the final out," Dinos manager Lee Dong-wook was quoted as saying on Yonhap. "This is a dream come true. Before the season, our goal was just to reach the postseason. But the players really took the initiative and made this championship possible."
Throughout the Korean Series, the Dinos have taken an increasingly aggressive approach. Lee credited the Dinos' data analysis team for the refined approach and thanked his players for adapting. The Dinos are known for focusing on data analysis.
"No matter how great numbers are, they are useless unless we make the most of them on the field," Lee was quoted as saying. "[Our coaching staff] had more meetings with our data analysis team before, and we trust them to come up with information that will help the club."
After the victory, the Dinos players celebrated with captain Yang hefting a giant sword, a real-life replica of a weapon from NCSoft's famous game Lineage.
"We wanted our ownership to feel proud of our championship," Yang was quoted as saying on Yonhap. "[Park] Min-woo said we should do something game-related because NC is so closely associated with games. The company made an awesome replica for us."
NC's sword ceremony had some unexpected side effects, as some new KBO fans outside of Korea quickly jumped to the conclusion that the weapon was the actual Korean Series trophy. That misunderstanding was quickly corrected with the actual awards ceremony afterwards.
Due to the heightened social distancing level, only 1,670 fans were able to attend the game and ceremony in person, 10 percent of the stadium's capacity.
Yang was named the Korean Series MVP.
"I didn't expect to win this award," Yang was quoted as saying. "I was focusing on trying to win the title. Every single game was just so tough. But I think we, as a team, will take away a lot of confidence from this title. I think the guys will all realize we have to keep working hard to stay at the top. We know what it takes to be at the top and this is only the beginning."
Throughout the Korean Series this year, Yang appeared in all six games for the Dinos and had a .318 batting average with one home run, three RBIs, three runs and seven hits. Yang was also the starting catcher throughout the series and led the young pitchers to win the title. This is already the second time in the 33-year-old catcher's career that he has been named Korean Series MVP. Ironically, he was the MVP back in 2016, while playing for the Bears.
Dinos' starter Drew Rucinski also played a crucial role in the Korean Series. He started in Game 1 of the Korean Series, picking up a win, returned as a bullpen pitcher in Game 4, picking up a save, and returned again in Game 6 for his second win.
"Just happy that we finally finished it off," Rucinski was quoted as saying on Yonhap. "For me, it was just a fun experience. We did the best we could and got a win. That's the name of the game."
With a record of four wins and two losses, the Dinos picked up their first championship since the club first joined the KBO in 2013. They were the ninth club to join the KBO and are the ninth team to win the Korean Series, or eighth among the clubs that are still active. This is an unforgettable season for the Dinos, as they’ve also picked up their first-ever regular season title.
Aside from their historic win this year, their victory against the Bears was an opportunity for redemption for the Dinos.
Back in 2016, the Dinos advanced to the Korean Series for the first time by defeating the LG Twins in the second round of the postseason. However, they fell short of winning the Korean Series as the Bears swept them in four games.
The Dinos also won this Korean Series led by catcher Yang, who was the Bears' starting catcher back in 2016.
Looking at the Dinos’ history, only three players — outfielder Na sung-bum, Park Min-woo and pitcher Won Jong-hyan — have been with the club since it was first established in 2011, before it officially joined the KBO.
Since the Dinos first joined the KBO in 2013, they have been a strong team and have managed to advance to the postseason every year except for two, their first season in 2013 and 2018. In 2018, when they finished dead last in the KBO, the Dinos went through some changes in the roster, signing Yang to strengthen the young pitching lineup.
But while the Dinos are regulars in the postseason, this was only their second time playing in the Korean Series.
While the Dinos picked up their first-ever regular season and Korean Series title after less than a decade in the KBO, the Bears still had an impressive season. Although they had to walk away with a runner-up finish, the Bears still managed to advance to the Korean Series for a sixth straight season.
For the Bears, this is likely the last season where they will be able to play with their current lineup.
With the 2020 season now officially over, the KBO announced that nine players from the Bears squad are eligible for free agency, the most for any team in the league.
As a majority of the players had a pretty solid season, it’s unlikely that the Bears will be able to retain their current lineup.
This could come as a big blow, as although the Bears finished runner-up in the Korean Series this year, the current lineup is almost unchanged from the team that won the title in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Among the potential free agents are most of the current infield, some outfielders and starting pitchers.
BY KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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