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(LEAD) Slugger busts postseason slump in grand fashion

All Headlines 23:09 October 17, 2017

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By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- No one had to remind NC Dinos' slugger Xavier Scruggs that he wasn't playing up to par in the ongoing Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason.

And he answered his detractors with one swing of the bat Tuesday, launching a go-ahead grand slam against the Doosan Bears in the Dinos' 13-5 victory to open their best-of-five second round series.

Scruggs batted just .190 (4-for-21) with a home run and three RBIs as the Dinos knocked out the Lotte Giants in five games in the previous round. The Dinos had strong pitching and solid production up and down the lineup, but they clearly needed more from their cleanup hitter.

And with the Dinos trailing 4-2 entering the top fifth at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, Scruggs rose to the occasion.

He jumped on a 1-1 slider from Doosan starter Dustin Nippert and drove it over the left field wall to put the Dinos ahead 6-4.

The Bears got a run back in the bottom fifth, but the Dinos put up seven runs on the board in the eighth, with Scruggs knocking in a run with a single.

For the night, Scruggs was 3-for-6 with five RBIs and two runs scored. There's no slump buster quite like a grand slam.

Xavier Scruggs of the NC Dinos hits a grand slam against the Doosan Bears in the top of the fifth inning of the clubs' Korea Baseball Organization postseason game at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on Oct. 17, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I feel awesome. We won, and that's the best thing," Scruggs said afterward. "There was no pressure (to break through). That's how baseball is. Sometimes, you don't get hits."

In that at-bat against Nippert, Scruggs swung and missed on a slider. Nippert threw him a fastball that missed, and came back with a slider. This time, Scruggs was ready.

"I was sitting on a slider," Scruggs said. "Nippert has a good slider and he uses it a lot with runners in scoring position. So I was ready for it."

Scruggs joined the Dinos before this season to replace Eric Thames, a former MVP-winning slugger who spent three seasons with the Dinos before signing with the Milwaukee Brewers last winter.

Scruggs had big shoes to fill but did an admirable job producing in the heart of the lineup. Despite playing in just 115 of the team's 144 games with injuries, Scruggs led his club with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs while batting an even .300.

And Scruggs did something that Thames never did with the Dinos: hit a grand slam in a postseason game. And the home run came with Thames watching from the stands. Thames arrived in South Korea earlier Tuesday and visited his old NC teammates to cheer them on. The blast brought Thames out of his seat behind home plate.

The two players had faced each other in the U.S. minor leagues. After meeting Dinos players and coaches, Thames called Scruggs "a great hitter" and he was happy for his friend.

Scruggs said he'd spoken to Thames on the phone before the latter arrived here.

"I told him to bring me some hits from the United States," Scruggs said. "And I guess he did that."

Before the game, Scruggs admitted he had to do more, saying, "For us to excel and go far, it's going to be important for me to play well. That's something I am looking to do this series: step my game up."

When told Thames would soon stop by later, Scruggs deadpanned, "Who's Thames?"

At least on Tuesday, he did his best to make people forget about Thames.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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