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By Yoo Jee-ho
CHANGWON, South Korea, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) -- One member says he doesn't really care one way or the other about the moniker, while the other finds it funny. Either way, the so-called "Fantastic Four" of starting pitchers for the Doosan Bears, the 2016 Korean baseball champions, were truly fantastic in the club's run to their second consecutive title.
The Bears beat the NC Dinos 8-1 on Wednesday to complete the four-game sweep in the best-of-seven Korean Series and claim their second straight Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) crown.
Together, Dustin Nippert, Chang Won-jun, Michael Bowden and Yoo Hee-kwan were responsible for three of the wins, and they held the Dinos to one run in 29 1/3 innnings.
They took turns in starting Games 1 and 4, and every one of them pitched into at least the sixth inning. Yoo had the shortest outing, as he left Wednesday's game after giving up two straight singles to start the sixth.
In the regular season, they formed the KBO's first rotation with four 15-game winners. Nippert, a strong regular season MVP candidate, led the KBO with 22 wins. Bowden had 18, and Chang and Yoo were tied with 15 wins.
Nippert (2.95), Chang (3.32) and Bowden (3.80) also finished first, second and sixth in ERA. No club got more innings out of their rotation than the 822 innings logged by the Bears' starters.
They were the major reason the Bears set a single-season record with 93 victories, and ran away with the pennant by nine games.
And the best regular season record gave them the bye to the Korean Series, which meant they had three weeks off between the end of the regular season and the start of the championship final.
There's always the rust factor with such an extended layoff, but these starting pitchers apparently came back fresh and ready to pitch.
Nippert, an American right-hander in his sixth KBO season, got the ball rolling with a dominant start in Game 1 last Saturday. He was perfect through five and took a no-hitter into the seventh. He held the Dinos to two hits in eight shutout innings, and set a new postseason record with 34 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to last October.
Nippert didn't get a decision, as the Bears won the game 1-0 with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th, but his outing set the tone for the rest of the series.
Chang, an 11-year veteran, followed up by nearly throwing a complete game in Game 2 on Sunday. The left-hander scattered 10 singles over 8 2/3 innings, while giving up just one run. Chang would have stayed in to finish the game if not for the blister on his left middle finger. The Bears won 5-1.
Bowden, a first-year American right-hander, put together a gutsy performance in Game 3 Tuesday. He blanked the Dinos for 7 2/3 innings, striking out 11 on 136 pitches, just three shy of his season high, while giving up only three singles. The Bears went on to win 6-0, and Bowden was named the Player of the Game.
Yoo was shaky in the first inning, but somehow escaped without damage after a pair of walks and a single.
He then settled down to throw four perfect innings. Yoo was back on the mound to start the sixth inning, but left the game after two straight singles put men at the corners with no outs.
Reliever Lee Hyun-seung got the three outs against the middle of the NC lineup, extending the Dinos' scoreless streak to 15.
Lee Yong-chan gave up a ninth-inning solo shot to Eric Thames, but he got the last four outs in the title clincher.
Yoo said he was a nervous wreck from Tuesday night, knowing he had tough acts to follow.
"I am just happy to be able to finish the puzzle today," he said. "It's great to be part of the Fantastic Four."
Lee Hyun-seung and Lee Yong-chan were the only two relievers to pitch in this series, and that was exactly how the Bears wanted the series to play out.
The Bears had reservations about their bullpen, the only real weakness they had during the regular season. But whatever problems they might have had were easily concealed because all four starting pitchers went deep into the games.
As for the name, Nippert said last Sunday he "couldn't care less" about it.
"I don't really get too much into what the media says," he said. "We have a really good rotation. We really mesh well together. The starters would go deep into the game and the bullpen would finish it off. I feel like our team game all around this year was really good."
Bowden, after his Game 3 victory, could at least laugh about the whole thing.
"I think it's kind of funny," he said with a chuckle. "It makes me feel good. We deserve that name. We have four guys who threw really well this year. We've fed off each other and it made us successful. It's been fun to be pitching with those guys."
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