(LEAD) Landers walk off on Heroes to move within one win of Korean Series title

22:26 November 07, 2022

INCHEON, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) — Powered by an improbable ninth-inning comeback, the SSG Landers moved to the brink of the 2022 South Korean baseball title on Monday with a 5-4 victory over the Kiwoom Heroes.

Pinch hitter Kim Kang-min smacked a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the Korean Series at Incheon SSG Landers Field, just west of Seoul, capping off the Landers’ rally from a 4-0 deficit on this rainy night.

The Landers will take a 3-2 lead into Game 6, the first elimination game in this best-of-seven series, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Incheon.

Game 6 will be a rematch of the starting pitchers in Game 2 from last Wednesday.

Wilmer Font will try to clinch the title for the Landers. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball, scattering five hits and striking out four, in a 6-1 Landers victory.

Font will have the same counterpart from that game in Tyler Eppler, who was charged with five runs on six hits in five frames in Game 2.

The Landers’ franchise has won four Korean Series titles, all of them in their previous incarnation as the SK Wyverns in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2018. They became the Landers in early 2021.

The Heroes, who joined the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2008, have never won a Korean Series title. They were the runners-up in 2014 and 2019.

The Heroes wasted no time getting to starter Kim Kwang-hyun, as Kim Tae-jin’s two-out single cashed in two runs in the top of the first. That hit followed a walk and a double given up by Kim Kwang-hyun in a wild first inning.

The Heroes tacked on a run in the second inning, though they could have had more after loading the bases with nobody out on a double, a walk and a single.

That lone run came courtesy of Kim Jun-wan’s sacrifice fly. Then with runners still at first and second, Jeon Byeong-woo grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to let Kim Kwang-hyun off the hook.

While Kim was all over the place with his pitches, his counterpart, An Woo-jin, was sharp early on. He was perfect through three innings with four strikeouts.

That perfect streak ended with a two-out walk in the fourth, but An recorded another strike out to end the inning.

The Landers failed to cash in after putting runners at the corners with one out in the fifth, with Kim Sung-hyun bouncing into an inning-ending double play.

The Heroes extended their lead to 4-0 in the top sixth, when No. 9 Kim Hye-seong drove in Song Sung-mun, who had opened the inning with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.

The Landers couldn’t solve An in the bottom sixth, despite loading the bases with two outs. The best Juan Lagares could manage against the right-hander was a pop fly to shortstop.

The Landers finally got on the board against the Heroes bullpen. With one out in the eighth, Choi Jeong hammered a two-run homer off reliever Kim Jae-woong to cut the deficit in half at 4-2.

The Heroes summoned new pitcher Choi Won-tae to begin the ninth, and that set the stage for some incredible drama.

Choi walked the first batter he faced, and then Choi Joo-hwan lined a single off the right field wall after a 10-pitch battle.

Representing the winning run, Kim Kang-min came off the bench, with five career postseason home runs to his name. And after falling behind 0-2 in the count, Kim drove a slider and deposited into the left field seats for one of the most thrilling Korean Series wins in recent memory.

Kim had hit a game-tying homer in the bottom ninth in Game 1 of this series, with the Landers dropping that game in 10 innings. This time, Kim ensured there would be no overtime duties.

Landers manager Kim Won-hyong noted that the bullpen was the unsung hero in the game after holding the Heroes scoreless over the final four frames.

“We thought the four-run deficit was pretty big, but at the same time, we figured anything could happen later in the game,” Kim said. “We got a couple runs back in the eighth and then we created some unbelievable drama in the ninth. This was one of the greatest games I’ve been involved in my life.”

The manager said he had kept the Kim Kang-min card in his back pocket just in case.

“The coaches said we should save Kang-min until much later in the game,” Kim Won-hyong said. “I felt we would have a chance to use him at some point. I am just thankful that he and all the other players came through.”

The losing manager, Hong Won-ki, said he had no regrets about his bullpen management, with the exhausted relievers Kim Jae-woong and Choi Won-tae combining to throw away a 4-0 lead.

“We’ve come this far thanks to those pitchers. We made what we thought was the best decision at the time,” Hong said. “The last pitch of the game was a mistake, but that’s baseball in a nutshell. One pitch can determine the outcome of a game. My players did the best they could and I have so much respect for the work they’ve done.”