(LEAD) Heroes reach brink of Korean Series after rallying past Twins

October 27, 2022

SEOUL, Oct. 27 (Yonhap) — Powered by back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning, the Kiwoom Heroes defeated the LG Twins 6-4 on Thursday to move within a victory of reaching the South Korean baseball championship series.

Im Ji-yeol smoked a go-ahead, two-run homer off the bench in the fateful seventh inning at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, and Lee Jung-hoo followed with a towering solo home run, giving the Heroes a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five series.

The Heroes can punch a ticket to the Korean Series with a victory Friday, back at the dome. The SSG Landers, the regular season champions, are awaiting the winner of the Heroes-Twins series.

The Twins opened the scoring in the top of the second, when Moon Bo-gyeong faked a bunt and chopped a single through the gaping hole on the left to cash in Oh Ji-hwan, who had led off the inning with a double.

Kiwoom right-hander An Woo-jin relied on offspeed pitches instead of his signature fastball in the early going. And with two outs in the third inning, he hung a curveball to cleanup Chae Eun-seong, who crushed that pitch for a solo homer that gave the Twins a 2-0 lead.

LG starter Kim Yoon-sik, meanwhile, was cruising along in his first career postseason start.

After a leadoff single by Kim Jun-wan, Kim Yun-sik retired 10 straight batters. After that streak ended with one out in the fourth, the left-hander got five straight outs.

But the Heroes turned the tide in a hurry in the bottom sixth, scoring three runs with two outs to take a 3-2 lead.

Kim Yun-sik served up a leadoff single but then retired the next two batters. He was one out from escaping the inning unscathed, but the Twins instead summoned reliever Jin Hae-soo to handle two-time batting champion Lee Jung-hoo, who had singled off Kim in the previous at-bat.

Jin ended up hitting Lee in the right elbow guard to extend the inning and then allowed an RBI double to Kim Hye-seong.

Right-hander Jung Woo-young came on to put out the fire, but Yasiel Puig’s swinging bunt down the third base line cashed in Lee to make it a 2-2 game.

Kim Tae-jin followed up with a single to left to put the Heroes up 3-2.

The Twins reclaimed their lead immediately in the top of the seventh. A single, a walk and a wild pitch had runners at second and third for Park Hae-min, whose groundout to second cashed in the tying run.

Another groundout, this time by pinch hitter Moon Sung-ju, brought in the go-ahead run for a 4-3 Twins lead.

That lead didn’t last long, with the Heroes putting up another three-spot in the bottom seventh.

At two outs, Kim Jun-wan extended the inning with an infield single back to the mound, as reliever Kim Dae-yu was unable to field the ball cleanly.

When the right-handed Im Ji-yeol came on to pinch hit, the Twins brought in righty Yi Jung-yong. And Im jumped on the first-pitch fastball and drove it 130 meters to left-center field for a two-run homer and a 5-4 Heroes lead.

The blast sent the dugout and the Heroes’ cheering section into a frenzy, but before anyone could settle down, Lee Jung-hoo clobbered another first-pitch fastball for a solo homer.

The Twins threatened with two straight singles in the top eighth, but reliever Kim Jae-woong made the most important defensive play of the game to keep his team in front.

Moon Bo-gyeong’s sacrifice bunt attempt popped toward the mound, and Kim made a diving grab and then had the presence of mind to throw out the lead runner at second for the crucial double play. Pinch hitter Hong Chang-ki grounded out to second to end that LG threat.

Kim then pitched around a one-out error in the ninth to close out the win.

Neither starter factored into a decision.

An Woo-jin labored through five innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and striking out five. He threw 93 pitches, with 37 sliders and just 29 fastballs.

Kim Yun-sik was charged with a run in 5 2/3 innings in his first career postseason start.

Kiwoom manager Hong Won-ki credited An with keeping the team in the game despite giving up early runs, setting the stage for the late rally.

“The two biggest moments for me were Im Ji-yeol’s homer and Kim Jae-woong’s diving grab,” Hong said. “I had confidence we could score runs against the Twins’ bullpen. I think the kind of homers that we saw in the seventh can really fire up the rest of the team and have a positive impact going forward.”

LG skipper Ryu Ji-hyun said his players might have been pressing too hard after dropping Tuesday’s game 7-6, when their rally from a 6-0 deficit came up short.

“I think we were maybe trying too hard to protect our early lead today,” Ryu said. “I hope the guys will relax a bit and be more assertive tomorrow.”

In Friday’s Game 4, there will be a rematch of starting pitchers from Monday’s Game 1.

Casey Kelly for the Twins and Tyler Eppler for the Heroes will both pitch on three days’ rest, with a ticket to the Korean Series at stake.

Kelly was the winning pitcher in Game 1, holding the Twins to two runs in six innings in a 6-3 victory. Kelly threw 95 pitches in that game.

Eppler gave up four runs in three innings Monday, but three of them were unearned, as the Heroes committed three errors with the right-hander on the mound.

Eppler threw 47 pitches in that outing.

Kelly and Eppler never started on three days’ rest this season, though Eppler did make three relief appearances on short rest in the second half of the season.