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By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- Pinch hitter Kim In-tae came through with a go-ahead single in the top ninth as the Doosan Bears got past the KT Wiz 3-2 to begin their South Korean baseball postseason series on Monday.
Kim Jae-hwan and Heo Kyoung-min each delivered an RBI single for the Bears in the top eighth at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, as the Bears won the crucial first game of the best-of-five second round.
In the current format, Game 1 winners have gone on to take this series 26 out of 32 times.
After the Bears went up 2-0 in the top eighth, Wiz captain Yoo Han-joon responded with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom eighth.
The Wiz's bullpen, though, fell apart in the top of the ninth. Closer Kim Jae-yoon, who had allowed two runs in the eighth, gave up a leadoff single in the ninth to Kim Jae-ho. Pinch runner Lee Yu-chan stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. New pitcher Jo Hyun-woo came on to face pinch hitter Kim In-tae, who sent a single to right field to score Lee for a 3-2 lead.
Doosan closer Lee Young-ha, who served up the single to Yoo, held his ground in the bottom ninth
Both starters pitched a gem but didn't factor into a decision. KT's rookie right-hander So Hyeong-jun pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings, and his counterpart, right-hander Chris Flexen, was charged with two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings while striking out 11. Flexen became the first KBO pitcher to record 10 or more strikeouts in consecutive postseason starts.
While their starters were dealing on the mound, both teams missed out on early opportunities. In the top first, Doosan leadoff Jung Soo-bin reached on an error and stole second to get himself into scoring position, but Oh Jae-il and Kim Jae-hwan, the No. 3 and 4 hitters, each grounded out.
In the bottom second, the Wiz put men at the corners with two outs, and No. 9 hitter Shim Woo-jun lined out softly to second.
The Bears then wasted a two-out double by Kim Jae-hwan in the top fourth.
After one out in the bottom fourth, KT's Jang Sung-woo reached with an error but was erased in a 5-4-3 double play ball by Park Kyung-su.
With one out in the top seventh, Heo Kyoung-min lined one off the top of the left field fence for what looked to be a sure double for the Bears. But left fielder Cho Yong-ho fielded the ball quickly and fired a strike to second base to nab Heo at the bag.
The Bears finally broke though in the eighth against William Cuevas, normally a starter who came out of the bullpen to begin that inning.
Cuevas hit pinch hitter Choi Joo-hwan, and Jo Soo-haeng, running for Choi, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. A two-out infield single put the runners at the corners and knocked Cuevas out of the game.
Then facing closer Kim Jae-yoon, Kim Jae-hwan lined a single to right field to put the Bears ahead 1-0. Heo immediately doubled the lead with a single to center.
But the Wiz tied it up in the bottom eighth. Running on fumes, Flexen walked Bae Jung-dae to begin that inning, and two batters later, Hwang Jae-gyun doubled to left field to chase Flexen from the game.
Closer Lee Young-ha came on and retired the dangerous Kang Baek-ho on a pop fly to second.
Lee intentionally walked Mel Rojas Jr., a leading MVP candidate as the regular season home run and RBI king, to load the bases and set up a force play at every base. Yoo Han-joon then fell behind 0-2 in the count before bouncing a single up the middle to tie the score at 2-2.
The Bears came back with a go-ahead run in the top ninth, courtesy of Kim In-tae, who now has two RBIs in two career postseason plate appearances.
The Wiz put some pressure on Lee Young-ha, who returned for the ninth, with Park Kyung-su reaching with an infield single. But Lee stood his ground and retired pinch hitter Moon Sang-chul on a fly to left after a seven-pitch battle.
Doosan manager Kim Tae-hyoung gave his thumbs-up to Flexen for his overpowering start, which followed six shutout innings last week against the LG Twins in the previous round.
"He did his job, and he has been executing all of his pitches effectively," the manager said. "He's in a groove."
As for his closer Lee, who blew the save but got the win in the ninth, "I think the veteran hitters for KT were ready for his breaking pitches. He still pitched a solid game."
Game 2 is back at the dome at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. It'll be right-hander Choi Won-jun for the Bears against right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne for the Wiz.
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