By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 8 (Yonhap) -- The Nexen Heroes squeezed past the Doosan Bears 4-3 with a ninth inning walk-off hit at home in the opening game of the first round playoff series in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) on a rainy Tuesday.
At Mokdong Stadium in western Seoul, Lee Taek-geun hit a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth to give the first-time playoff entrant a 1-0 series lead. The team captain also made a key defensive play in center field in the seventh inning.
The second game of the best-of-five series will be back at Mokdong at 2 p.m. Wednesday, which is a national holiday called Hangeul Day that celebrates the creation of the Korean alphabet.
Throughout the postseason, all weekday games will begin at 6 p.m., and games on weekends or holidays will begin at 2 p.m.
The KBO has had 22 first-round series between the third-place and the fourth-place clubs. The team that won the opening game has gone on to take the series 19 times.
The Heroes finished third in the regular season to reach their first-ever playoffs and have the home field advantage. The Bears ended the regular season in fourth and are in their second straight postseason.
The Heroes blew a 3-2 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth, when Jeong Su-bin hit a double off the closer Son Seung-lak.
Then in the bottom ninth, pinch hitter Yoo Han-joon drew a walk against Doosan's reliever Yun Myung-jun. Following Hur Do-hwan's sacrifice bunt, Seo Geon-chang was intentionally walked as the Bears brought the double play into the equation.
Jang Ki-young's grounder to first put runners on second and third, setting up the stage for Lee with two outs. The veteran lined a 2-1 offering from the new Doosan pitcher, Chung Jae-hun, to right field for the dramatic win.
Before his ninth inning heroics, Lee had gone 0-for-4 in the game with a strikeout.
Son blew the save in the ninth but was credited with the victory. Yun, responsible for the runner on third, took the loss for the Bears.
The Heroes wasted little time getting on board. Seo Geon-chang led off the game with an infield single. He stole second and reached third on a throwing error by catcher Yang Eui-ji. Seo then scored on a sacrifice fly by Seo Dong-wook.
Two batters later, MVP candidate Park Byung-ho, who led the league with 37 homers in the regular season, drilled a high fastball by the starter Dustin Nippert over the center field wall to make it a 2-0 game.
The Bears quickly scored two of their own in the top second with four straight hits, including a pair of RBI singles by Jeong Su-bin and Yang Eui-ji.
After the teams traded zeros on the scoreboard over the next three innings, Lee Seong-yeol finally put the Heroes out in front with the opposite field single in the sixth, driving in Park Byung-ho from second.
Son, who led the regular season with 46 saves, entered the game with two outs in the eighth, and retired the first three hitters he faced. Then Lee Won-seok hit a two-out single to keep the Bears' hopes alive, and Jeong launched a double off the center field wall to tie the score.
Both starters of the game -- Brandon Knight for Nexen, and Nippert for Doosan -- looked shaky early on. Knight had gone 2-0 in five regular season starts versus the Bears but with a 5.26 ERA. Nippert had been even worse against the Heroes, going 0-2 in two starts with an unsightly ERA of 11.91.
After the two-run second, Knight settled down and held the Bears to just three hits over the next 4 1/3 scoreless innings before handing the 3-2 lead to the bullpen.
Knight threw 6 1/3 innings and gave up two earned runs on seven hits. He struck out three and walked none.
Nippert labored through six innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits and five walks.
The Bears had a runner on third with one out in the sixth, with the heart of their order coming up. But cleanup Kim Hyun-soo, a .302 hitter during the regular season, weakly grounded out to short, as part of his 0-for-4 night, and Hong Sung-heun also hit a grounder to short to kill the rally.
The Bears then had a back-breaking double play that foiled another rally with one out in the top seventh. Pinch hitter Oh Jae-il hit a line drive toward center field with Jeong Su-bin, the runner on first, on the move. Center fielder Lee Taek-geun made a sliding catch on the ball, and gunned down Jeong at first to end the inning.
For the Heroes, Seo Geon-chang went 2-for-4 with a run and a steal from the leadoff spot. After his first-inning home run, Park Byung-ho drew two free passes, including the intentional walk in the third with two outs and runners on second and third. He led the KBO with a career-high 92 walks in the regular season.
Jeong went 4-for-4 in the losing cause. Lee Won-seok had two hits and scored twice, but cleanup Kim Hyun-soo was hitless in four at-bats.
The winner of this series will face the LG Twins in the next round. By virtue of finishing second in the regular season, the Twins received the bye to the second round.
The Samsung Lions, the two-time defending champs, claimed their third straight pennant and advanced straight to the championship Korean Series.
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