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KBO postseason of high hopes ends on bitter note for Nexen Heroes

All Headlines 09:24 October 15, 2013

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- The decisive Game 5 of the opening playoff series between the Nexen Heroes and the Doosan Bears may have ended just before 11 p.m. Monday, with the Bears prevailing 8-5 in 14 innings to move on in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason.

But the clock struck midnight on the Heroes, the Cinderella team of 2013, whose first postseason began with high hopes and ended on a bitter note.

The Heroes claimed the first two games of the series on walk-off hits, becoming the first KBO team to win two straight games in last at-bats.

Needing just one more victory in three tries, the Heroes couldn't get the job done. They will be left to wonder "what ifs" this winter.

After Monday's loss, Nexen's manager Yeom Kyung-yup said the Game 3 loss still gnawed at him. The Bears won that game 4-3 on Lee Won-seok's single in the 14th inning, but from the Heroes' perspective, the game shouldn't even have gone that far.

They trailed 3-0, but Kim Min-seong tied with one swing of the bat, with a three-run shot in the seventh. Then in extra innings, the Heroes had a go-ahead run on base in the 11th, 13th and 14th, but stranded all of them. The Bears gift-wrapped an opportunity in the 11th, when pitcher Yun Myung-jun's throw to first to check the runner Kim Ji-soo sailed over first base and landed in the Bears' bullpen, moving Kim to third base with nobody out.

The next two batters struck out. Jang Ki-young, the second strikeout victim, inexplicably went down on a missed bunt attempt with two strikes. Yeom was caught shaking his hand on television camera as Jang trudged back to the dugout.

In the fifth game, the Heroes had a winning run on board with two outs in the 10th and the 11th but couldn't get over that final hump.

The Heroes put up the third-best record during the regular season at 72-54-2 but slipped from second place to third place on the final day of the season after losing to the last-place Hanwha Eagles.

They played their final four games in four different cities and had only two days off before the playoff began. That may have been the ultimate undoing for a relatively shallow team that had relied heavily on its established stars all season.

Those star players didn't quite live up to their billings in the postseason.

The reigning MVP Park Byung-ho is a shoo-in for his back-to-back MVP, after leading the league homers (37) and RBIs (117) for the second straight season, and also topping the field in walks, runs scored and slugging percentage.

He homered in his very first postseason at-bat in Game 1, a line drive that cleared the center field wall before Park even got out of the batter's box to begin his trot. He had just one more hit over his next 13 at-bats before getting two hits, including the dramatic, game-tying three-run shot in the ninth, in Game 5.

Kang Jung-ho, a power hitting shortstop, finished second behind Park on the team in homers (22) and RBIs (96) during the regular season. He too had two hits in Game 5, but he'd been 1-for-18 prior to that.

Son Seung-lak, who led the league with 46 regular season saves, blew a save in Game 1 and also gave up a go-ahead run in the ninth in Game 2. He made up for those shaky outings with four shutout innings in Game 5, though the rest of the bullpen collapsed by giving up five runs in the top 13th.

After Monday's game, Yeom said players were not at fault and he took all the responsibility for the Heroes' elimination.

"A loss like this really hurts my pride, but our players did their very best," said Yeom, the first-year manager. "No matter what the situation, the manager should be held accountable. Looking back on the games, I feel responsible for making wrong decisions."

Yeom said he told his players in the club house after the game that they should try to learn from their mistakes and move forward.

"They really did a great job," the manager said. "Some may have struggled in the postseason, but if they hadn't played well during the regular season, we wouldn't even have reached the postseason. I hope you will all see that and encourage our players, rather than scold them."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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