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By Yoo Jee-ho
SUWON, South Korea, Nov. 5 (Yonhap) — The KT Wiz are headed to the Korean Series.
The Wiz defeated the NC Dinos 3-2 on Sunday in Game 5 of the second round in the Korea Baseball Organization postseason, winning the best-of-five series to book a ticket to the South Korean baseball championship round.
Pinch hitter Kim Min-hyuck delivered a two-run double to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, just south of Seoul, and a bases-loaded double play by Park Byung-ho in the sixth inning provided the difference.
Reliever Son Dong-hyun, who threw two scoreless frames for the win on Sunday, was voted the series MVP. He appeared in all five games and pitched seven shutout innings while allowing only three hits.
The Wiz dropped the first two games of this series at home in Suwon before storming back to win the next three, including two on the road in the southeastern city of Changwon. They became just the third team to complete a reverse sweep in the best-of-five second round.
Wiz starter Wes Benjamin held the Dinos to two runs — one unearned — in five innings, and the bullpen, led by Son, slammed the door shut over the final four frames.
The Wiz, No. 2 seed, will take on top-seed LG Twins, who earned a bye to the Korean Series after posting the best record in the regular season.
The Korean Series begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Twins’ home, Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul.
This is the Wiz’s second trip to the Korean Series. They swept the Doosan Bears to win their first title in 2021.
The Twins are going for their first title since 1994.
The Dinos fired the opening salvo in the top of the third inning, capitalizing on consecutive fielding errors by shortstop Kim Sang-su.
At one out, Kim Sang-su let a grounder by Kim Hyung-jun skip past him.
The next batter, Kim Ju-won, hit a chopper at Kim Sang-su, who charged the ball but missed it completely, as it rolled to left field.
A follow-up single by Son Ah-seop loaded the bases for Seo Ho-cheol, who cashed in Kim Hyung-jun from third with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Dinos doubled their lead in the top fifth. Kim Hyung-jun opened the inning with a double and advanced to third on a flyout. Son brought him home with a single through a drawn-in infield for a 2-0 Dinos lead.
The Wiz had nothing going against Dinos starter Shin Min-hyeok through four innings. But after one out in the bottom fifth, they erupted for three straight hits to tie the game and chase Shin from the game.
Jang Sung-woo ended Shin’s no-hitter bid with a double to right field. Moon Sang-chul singled to left field, though not enough to score slow-footed Jang from second.
With men at the corners, pinch hitter Kim Min-hyuck lined a double down the right field line to bring both runners home, knotting the game at 2-2.
Shin entered this game having tossed 12 scoreless innings over his past two postseason outings.
Shin got the hook in favor of Kim Young-kyu, who put out the fire by striking out the next two batters.
The Wiz broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom sixth, though they could have blown the game wide open after loading the bases with nobody out.
Two singles and a walk had the bases full for cleanup Park Byung-ho, who swung on the first pitch from reliever Ryu Jin-wook and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play that plated a run.
Jang Sung-woo, the next batter, grounded out to first base to end the promising inning for the Wiz.
The Wiz’s bullpen, though, let the slim lead stand the rest of the way.
Son, who relieved Benjamin after a leadoff single in the fifth, stranded that lone runner in the fifth and pitched around a two-out double in the seventh. Park Yeong-hyun and Kim Jae-yoon each worked a scoreless inning to close out the clinching win.
Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul said Benjamin overcame early errors and kept the team in the game, allowing the bats to catch up and the bullpen to seal the deal.
As for being down 2-0 in this series, Lee said he believed in the Wiz’s resilience, after they climbed from last place in June to finish the regular season in second place.
“I felt we weren’t going to go down so easily,” Lee said. “As long as we won the third game, I felt we could grab Games 4 and 5. Our starters did tremendous work and we played the way we’re capable of playing.”
On giving Benjamin the quick hook and going to Son in the fifth, Lee said, “Benjamin was going on four days’ rest and I decided we could win the bullpen game. Son Dong-hyun had been pitching well the whole series and I wanted to go with the hot hand.”
In the series MVP voting, Son received 39 out of 71 votes cast by media. The 22-year-old pitcher is competing in his first postseason.
Dinos manager Kang In-kwon said his players gave their best but they simply ran out of gas at the end. As the No. 4 seed, the Dinos had to play four postseason games just to get to this round, and then battled the well-rested Wiz for five games in seven days.
“The way the season ended is disappointing, but it’s been a good ride,” said Kang, who took over the team as interim skipper last season and became the full-time manager this year. “We’ve developed some good young players this year, and hopefully they will be able to learn from this experience.”