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By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) -- When his team needed him the most Thursday, Doosan Bears' right-hander Dustin Nippert answered the bell emphatically.
With the Bears facing elimination from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason against the NC Dinos, the American threw seven scoreless innings on three days' rest to lift the Bears to a 7-0 win. The best-of-five series is now tied at two games apiece, with the deciding Game 5 scheduled for Saturday.
A day after pounding out 19 hits in a 16-2 rout against hapless Doosan pitching, the Dinos managed just two singles off Nippert, who struck out six and walked none.
The Dinos haven't been able to solve Nippert all series. In Game 1 on Sunday, Nippert threw a three-hit shutout, issuing two walks while striking out six.
He made 114 pitches in that game. Yet after the Bears were blown out 16-2 in Game 3 Wednesday to reach the brink of elimination, manager Kim Tae-hyung had no choice but to go back to his proven ace.
Nippert didn't look any worse for wear, with his fastball touching 154 kilometers (95.7 miles) per hour and changeups keeping the hitters off balance all evening.
He was hardly threatened. After giving up his second single of the night with one out in the third, Nippert sat down the next 14 batters he faced in order, before handing things over to the bullpen to start the eighth.
Nippert is the longest tenured foreign player in the KBO. The 34-year-old is in his fifth season with the Bears and has been the team's Opening Day starter in each of those five seasons.
He reached double figures in victories in every season from 2011 to 2014, but the streak ended in the injury-plagued 2015 season. This was his worst statistical season in the KBO, with a 6-5 record and a 5.10 ERA in 90 innings, the first time he failed to go more than 100 innings and keep his ERA below 4.00 in a season.
Once the postseason rolled in, Nippert recovered his touch. In the first round, Nippert held the Nexen Heroes to two runs over seven innings with six strikeouts in a no-decision.
Then came the complete game in Game 1 of the second round against the Dinos. And three days later, the Dinos still couldn't get to Nippert, who held them to just two singles over seven shutout innings.
Nippert said afterward the key was to try to enjoy himself.
"I just tried to have fun and keep it simple," he said. "I was hurt a lot and didn't get to play a lot in the regular season. And I don't know how many more postseasons I am going to play."
Nippert said it was a no-brainer for him to take the ball for the elimination game Thursday.
"Yesterday, we lost, and it was a 'win or go home' situation," he said. "When the coaches asked me (if I could pitch in Game 5), I felt good enough to start."
After the two scoreless starts, Nippert has lowered his postseason ERA from 4.57 to 3.30.
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