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With Korean Series title in sight, Dinos stack up mashers in heart of order

All News 17:07 November 24, 2020

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- Sitting a win away from capturing the 2020 South Korean baseball championship, NC Dinos' manager Lee Dong-wook decided to put his three biggest sluggers in the middle of the lineup for Tuesday.

The Dinos are leading the Doosan Bears 3-2 heading into Tuesday's Game 6 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Na Sung-bum and Yang Eui-ji have batted third and cleanup in all five games so far, with different hitters taking turns at No. 5 spot. For the potential clinching game, Lee moved No. 8 hitter Aaron Altherr to fifth.

In the regular season, Na, Yang and Altherr became the first trio of teammates with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. In the Korean Series, Na is batting .500 with a team-best six RBIs. Yang is batting .389 and has knocked in three RBIs in his past two games. Altherr hit a three-run bomb in Game 1 and has five RBIs for the series.

Aaron Altherr of the NC Dinos celebrates his RBI single against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 5 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 23, 2020. (Yonhap)

"Altherr is swinging the bat well, and our focus is on getting the most out of our 3-4-5 hitters," Lee said in his pregame media session. "If those guys in the middle can take care of business, it will also help other players hitting around them."

Altherr spent most of the regular season batting out of the eighth spot and was the most dangerous No. 8 hitter in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), with 17 of his 31 homers and 52 of his 108 RBIs coming from that spot.

The Dinos have shut out the Bears in each of the past two games. On Monday, left-hander Koo Chang-mo threw seven shutout innings for a 5-0 victory, and Lee said the players seemed to have found their groove.

"I thought we've been playing in the sort of rhythm that we did when we were doing well (during the regular season)," the manager added.

NC Dinos' manager Lee Dong-wook speaks to reporters before Game 6 of the Korean Series against the Doosan Bears at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

While Koo has shined on the mound and the sluggers have been mashing at the plate, reliever Kim Jin-sung has been an unsung hero. He has pitched in every game of the series and hasn't allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings, most of them high-pressure situations. He has struck out four and walked none.

Lee said he feels comfortable using Kim extensively because he has been able to keep his pitch count low -- 68 pitches across those 5 2/3 innings -- and said Kim has been an exemplary teammate with his preparation and work ethic.

Kim, 35, reported no physical issues. And the one-time closer said he thrives under pressure, with runners aboard.

"I think my competitive juices flow when I pitch with runners on bases. My body reacts differently," said Kim, who stranded a runner at third with nobody out in the eighth in Monday's victory. "I try to stick to the same routine and not to show any nerves on the mound, because I don't want to give the hitter any opening.

Kim had a contract dispute with the front office during spring training and began the season in the minors. Kim said he feels bad about being away from his teammates early in the season, and this is his opportunity to make up for that lost time.

Kim Jin-sung of the NC Dinos pitches against the Doosan Bears in the top of the seventh inning of Game 2 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

"Manager Lee has been sending me out there a lot, and I am trying to repay his trust," Kim said. "And the more I pitch, the more confident I am becoming. I want to think him for giving me this opportunity."

Kim played in the 2016 Korean Series when the Dinos got swept by the Bears. Kim faced just one batter in that series -- "I had nothing left in my tank then," he recalled -- and said this year's Dinos are a vastly different squad.

"Back then, I think we all seemed to be in a rush," Kim said. "Now, I had the feeling that we could get it done, and at the very least, we're not going to go down easily."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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