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Two-time defending champs take opening game of baseball final series

All Headlines 22:21 October 25, 2017

GWANGJU, Oct. 25 (Yonhap) -- Two-time defending champions Doosan Bears took the opening game of the South Korean baseball championship series on the road Wednesday.

Sluggers Kim Jae-hwan and Oh Jae-il hit back-to-back home runs and starter Dustin Nippert threw six solid innings as the Bears defeated the Kia Tigers 5-3 at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul.

There have been 34 Korean Series, and the Game 1 winner has gone on to capture the title in 25 of them. There was a tie in Game 1 of the inaugural Korean Series in 1982.

Kim Jae-hwan of the Doosan Bears watches his two-run home run against the Kia Tigers in the top of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

But in three of the past four Korean Series, the losers of the first game have rallied to capture the championship.

The Bears scored the first run in the top fourth, taking advantage of some shaky pitching by Kia starter Hector Noesi.

The right-hander cruised through the first innings, giving up two singles and inducing plenty of weak contacts. But after getting a quick out to start the fourth, Noesi walked two straight batters on eight pitches.

A fielding error by second baseman An Chi-hong on what should have been an inning-ending double play ball loaded the bases for the Bears. Noesi struck out Park Sei-hyeok in a 12-pitch at-bat, but walked Oh Jae-won after an eight-pitch battle to let in the game's first run.

Noesi needed 34 pitches to get out of the fourth inning, after needing just 36 over the first three frames.

Noesi never got his groove back. An infield single and a sacrifice bunt put a man at second for No. 3 hitter Park Kun-woo, who drove in the Bears' second run with a single to left.

Then the big bats woke up.

Roger Bernadina of the Kia Tigers celebrates his three-run home run against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

First, it was cleanup Kim Jae-hwan, who launched a towering two-run bomb to right field to make it 4-0 Bears.

Oh Jae-il then followed up with a solo blast over the right field wall for a 5-0 lead.

These were the eighth set of back-to-back jacks in the Korean Series history.

Both players maintained their form from the previous postseason round, when the Bears knocked out the NC Dinos in four games by scoring 50 runs and hitting 12 homers. Oh set KBO postseason records with four home runs and nine RBIs in Game 4, and hit five home runs in that series. Kim chipped in with three home runs.

The Tigers responded right away in the bottom fifth, finally solving Doosan starter Dustin Nippert after wasting some early opportunities.

With men at first and second with two outs, No. 3 hitter Roger Bernadina turned on a 1-0 change-up and drove it over the right field fence to cut the deficit to 5-3.

The Tigers had a base runner in three of the first four innings and Nippert stranded all of them before his luck ran out in the fifth.

Oh Jae-il of the Doosan Bears (L) celebrates his solo home run against the Kia Tigers with his third base coach Kong Pill-sung in the top of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

The bullpen game ensued in the seventh inning, and the Bears slammed the door shut on the Tigers over the final three frames.

Ham Deok-ju, a lefty who tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the previous series, added another shutout inning to his name.

Ham actually created a mess in the bottom eighth when he gave up a single and a walk to open the frame. Right-hander Kim Kang-ryul came in and kept the Tigers off the board by getting a double play and a strikeout to end the inning in a hurry.

Kim also tossed a scoreless ninth to earn a six-out save. It was also his first career postseason save.

Nippert picked up his fifth postseason victory after holding the Tigers to three runs on five hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Noesi gave up five runs -- one unearned -- over six innings to take the loss. He walked three and gave up six hits, including those two long shots in the fifth.

Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears throws a pitch against the Kia Tigers in the bottom of the fifth inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on Oct. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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