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(LEAD) Everything clicks for KT Wiz in run to 1st Korean Series title

All News 23:38 November 18, 2021

(ATTN; ADDS comments at bottom, photos)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- You know something is going right for your team when a backup infielder with one regular season home run goes deep in the title-clinching game.

Be it an unexpected homer, excellent starting pitching, shutdown bullpen or steady defense: virtually everything went the way of the KT Wiz in their run to the maiden Korean Series title this month.

The Wiz defeated the Doosan Bears 8-4 to complete a four-game sweep of the South Korean baseball championship series on Thursday.

KT Wiz players celebrate their 8-4 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 4 of the Korean Series to complete a four-game sweep for the championship at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

No. 8 hitter Shin Bon-ki was the source of the unlikely home run in the clincher. Shin was in the lineup only because Park Kyung-su had been ruled out for season with a calf injury sustained in Wednesday's game. And Shin showed no nerves in his first career Korean Series start.

And that was the running theme for the rest of the Wiz. They were playing in their first Korean Series as a franchise, and only two players had prior experience at this stage with other teams. But to a man, they played with the kind of poise and aplomb of veterans who'd been there and done that.

Members of the KT Wiz celebrate winning the Korean Series after defeating the Doosan Bears 8-4 in Game 4 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

The Wiz made Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) history with their pitching. They're the first team to have four different starting pitchers win a game apiece in a four-game Korean Series sweep.

William Cuevas got the ball rolling by throwing 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Game 1. So Hyeong-jun followed that up with six shutout innings the next game. He walked five batters but his infield bailed him out by turning four double plays, tying the record for most in one postseason game. In Game 3, it was Odrisamer Despaigne's turn, as the right-hander kept the Bears scoreless for 5 2/3 innings.

Bae Je-seong capped it off with five solid innings, in which he was charged with three runs.

KT Wiz starter William Cuevas pitches against the Doosan Bears during the top of the first inning in Game 1 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 14, 2021. (Yonhap)

Because the starters were so effective, the Wiz didn't have to rely that much on their bullpen. Two of the key relievers from the regular season, Ju Kwon and Park Si-young, didn't pitch until Game 4.

Lefty specialist Jo Hyun-woo faced six batters, and went up against Kim Jae-hwan, the Bears' left-handed cleanup, four times. Jo won that battle handily with two strikeouts and a flyout with runners on base each time, while Kim got a solo shot in the eighth inning of Game 4 when the Bears were down 8-3.

KT Wiz starter Odrisamer Despaigne (L) is congratulated by third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun after completing the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 3 of the Korean Series against the Doosan Bears at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 17, 2021. (Yonhap)

The Wiz also dominated the series on defense. Park Kyung-su, before suffering his injury, made perhaps the biggest defensive play in the first inning of Game 2.

Starter So Hyeong-jun walked the first two batters of the game, and in came Jose Miguel Fernandez, the Bears' best hitter of the postseason who also had the team's best numbers against So. He hit a scorcher toward the hole on the right for what looked to be a certain RBI single.

But Park laid out to his left to snare the ball, and fired it to second from his knees for an improbable 4-6-3 double play.

Bae Jung-dae of the KT Wiz celebrates his RBI single against the Doosan Bears in the top of the first inning during Game 4 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

Kang himself helped turn two double plays in Game 2, including the rare 3-6-3 job in the seventh. In Game 3, Kang nabbed a pop fly while crashing into the dugout railing. After committing 19 errors to lead all first basemen in the regular season, Kang played defense at a level that he had never reached in his four-year career.

Across the diamond, third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun manned the hot corner with aplomb, fielding one grounder after another with shocking ease. It was difficult to believe this was the same player who rated as among the worst third basemen in the regular season.

KT Wiz players toss their manager Lee Kang-chul in the air to celebrate their Korean Series title after defeating the Doosan Bears 8-4 in Game 4 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

Center fielder Bae Jung-dae also made his presence known with a sliding catch to steal an RBI hit from Jung Soo-bin in the seventh inning in Game 4. That play kept the Wiz in front 6-3 and dashed the Bears' hope of a comeback.

Not that their pitchers needed much run support, but the Wiz got key hits from up and down the lineup.

Kang, No. 3 hitter, tied a Korean Series record by reaching base safely in eight consecutive plate appearances. No. 8 hitter Park Kyung-su became the fourth oldest player ever to homer in a Korean Series game on Wednesday with his solo shot at age 37. Team captain Hwang Jae-gyun and center fielder Bae Jung-dae, entrenched at No. 2 and No. 7 spots in the lineup, also had a home run apiece.

Then Hoying, batting fifth, exploded for four hits and three RBIs in the clincher.

KT Wiz second baseman Park Kyung-su makes a throw to first against the Doosan Bears in the bottom of the eighth inning during Game 3 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 17, 2021. (Yonhap)

KT manager Lee Kang-chul often talked about how playing some high-stress games late in the season hardened his players for the Korean Series. The Wiz had to win the final game of the regular season on Oct. 30 to set up a tiebreaker game for first place against the Samsung Lions. And the Wiz won that game 1-0, with Cuevas throwing seven shutout innings on two days' rest in a gutsy outing.

The Wiz earned their first regular season title and also secured a direct trip to the Korean Series. It meant 13 days of break during which banged-up players could rest and take their time to get ready for the title pursuit.

And the Wiz's performance proved they'd used that time wisely.

KT Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul waves to fans after winning the Korean Series title with an 8-4 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 4 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 18, 2021. (Yonhap)

Lee pushed the right button all series long and became the first former Korean Series MVP to win a title as a manager.

"I wanted to do this because I knew I'd be the first one," said Lee, the 1996 Korean Series MVP for the Haitai (now Kia) Tigers. "A lot of things went through my mind during the game, but once it was all over, I was numb."

Lee spoke of feeling empty after his greatest accoomplishment as skipper, but said he wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

"For a while, I wondered, 'Is this what I've been working so hard for?'" Lee said. "But I know it's going to feel great to do it the second time. We're going to try to repeat."

KT Wiz third baseman Hwang Jae-gyun starts a double play against the Doosan Bears in the top of the third inning in Game 2 of the Korean Series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 15, 2021. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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