Heroes rally past Landers in extras to take Korean Series opener

INCHEON– The Kiwoom Heroes staged an exhilarating extra-inning comeback to defeat the SSG Landers 7-6 to open the Korean Series on Tuesday, emerging victorious from a strange affair that featured five lead changes, multiple errors and a pair of ninth-inning home runs.

Jeon Byeong-woo played the hero off the bench, first delivering a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the ninth and then knocking in the tie-breaking single with two outs in the top of the 10th at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, just west of Seoul.
There have been 39 Korean Series so far, and Game 1 winners have gone on to win the title 29 times.

Closer Kim Jae-woong blew his first save of this postseason after recording four straight saves, but pitched a scoreless 10th for his first career postseason victory.

Game 2 is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday back in Incheon.

The Landers had the best regular season record and had the bye to the Korean Series. The Heroes, as the No. 3 seed, won two rounds of the playoffsto set up the date with the regular season champions.

The Heroes wasted consecutive opportunities with a man in scoring position in each of the first two innings against starter Kim Kwang-hyun.

In contrast, the Landers capitalized on their first opportunity against starter An Woo-jin. A pair of walks that sandwiched a flyout and a groundout had men at first and second for No. 8 hitter Kim Sung-hyun, who dumped a single to shallow center field for a 1-0 Landers lead.

Then the game took an unexpected turn in the bottom third.

With two outs, Choi Jeong smacked a solo shot off An to right-center field for his 11th career postseason home run. An was promptly pulled from the game due to a blister on his right middle finger.

An had also dealt with blisters earlier this postseason. Prior to Tuesday, An had thrown 18 innings across three starts in a 12-day span.

Kim Kwang-hyun, on the other hand, looked settled in, retiring eight straight batters in one stretch.

But the Heroes tied the score in the fifth thanks to some sloppy play by the Landers.

With Kim Whee-jip at first and two outs, Song Sung-mun lined a single to right field. As right fielder Han Yoo-seom bobbled the ball, Kim came all the way around to score the Landers’ first run.

Third base coach Park Jae-sang put his arms up as Kim made the turn at third, but Kim ran through the stop sign and slid home safely when the relay throw home went off the mark. Song advanced to third on the play.

Song then scored the tying run on a passed ball by catcher Kim Min-sik, who couldn’t squeeze his mitt on a slider and let the ball bounce into the backstop.

The Heroes summoned the usual starter Eric Jokisch from the bullpen to begin the fifth, and the Landers got a run off the left-hander with Choi Jeong’s two-out RBI double.

Left fielder Kim Jun-wan attempted a diving grab but the ball dropped just out of his reach and rolled to the corner, allowing Choo Shin-soo to score from first.

More twists awaited the teams.

At two outs and a runner at first, Kim Tae-jin lined a base hit to center. But center fielder Choi Ji-hoon misread the bounce and ran past the ball, and as the ball skipped toward the warning track, Lee Jung-hoo scored from first to tie things up at 3-3. Kim reached second on what was curiously scored as a double.

Lee Ji-young then knocked a single to right center to cash in the go-ahead run, and chased Kim Kwang-hyun from the game.

The Landers had their answer in the bottom sixth as Kim Sung-hyun picked up his second RBI of the night with a two-out single to tie it up at 4-4.

The Landers reclaimed lead in the bottom eighth. After two straight singles, Oh Tae-gon broke the tie with a sacrifice fly to center field.

But the Heroes refused to go away. After a leadoff walk in the top ninth, Jeon Byeong-woo smoked a two-run homer off reliever Noh Kyung-eun to put the Heroes up 6-5.

The Heroes seemed destined for a road victory, with the reliable closer Kim Jae-woong taking the ball. But with one out in the bottom ninth, Kim surrendered the game-tying solo shot to Kim Kang-min.

Kim Jae-woong issued two walks later before escaping the inning with the score still tied at 6-6.

And Jeon rose to the occasion again in the top of the 10th. With two aboard, he slapped a single to left to put the Heroes up for good at 7-5.

Kim Jae-woong returned for the bottom 10th, and gave up two singles to put the tying run at third for none other than Kim Kang-min. This time, the Kiwoom reliever won the battle, retiring the veteran hitter on a soft comebacker to the mound to end four-plus hours of play.

Kiwoom manager Hong Won-ki credited the bullpen with keeping the Heroes in the game after An was pulled in the third inning. He also pushed the right button by bringing Jeon off the bench in the ninth.

“He has been a useful pinch hitter all season long, and he has always come through in key moments for us,” Hong said. “We sent him out there hoping he would deliver a big hit and he did just that.”

Hong said he wasn’t paying much attention to the favorable history for Game 1 winners in the Korean Series.

“At this point, those numbers don’t mean much to us,” he said. “We’re just trying to play our best every game. Our plan is to go all-in whenever we feel a particular moment dictates that. We’re not thinking about percentages.”

The Heroes will try to extend their series lead with Tyler Eppler starting Game 2.

Eppler struggled against the Landers during the regular season, posting a 5.27 ERA in 13 2/3 innings over one start and five relief outings. He allowed 18 hits, including a home run each by the Landers’ two boppers, Choo Shin-soo and Choi Jeong.

Shortstop Park Seong-han batted 4-for-6 with two doubles against Eppler.

Eppler has been the Heroes’ second-best starter in the postseason, and was the winning pitcher in their 4-1 victory over the LG Twins in the previous round last Friday that sent the Heroes to the Korean Series. Eppler has allowed just two earned runs in 14 innings this postseason.

The Landers will counter with Wilmer Font, who went 13-6 with a 2.69 ERA in his second KBO season, while striking out 170 in 184 innings. He finished third overall in strikeouts, fourth in wins and seventh in ERA.

Font was excellent against the Heroes in the regular season, going 3-0 in four starts with a 0.62 ERA, the lowest mark he had against any opponent. The right-hander allowed just two earned runs in 29 innings, though he served up two homers, both to Lee Jung-hoo.

Lee is one of three Kiwoom hitters to record at least three hits against Font, joined by Yasiel Puig and Lee Ji-young.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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