Without Na Seong-beom & Choi Hyung-woo, a 5-run big inning + a total bullpen battle, KIA saves 5 and Pedi wins 20.

The KIA Tigers overcame the absence of two key hitters and ended the league’s most dominant ace’s quest for 20 wins.

The Tigers defeated the NC Dinos 6-4 in the regular season finale of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League at NC Park in Changwon on Saturday. With the win, KIA overcame a slump of 1-9 in its last 10 games. They also escaped a two-game losing streak. They are now 62 wins, 61 losses, and two ties on the season and have a five-game winning percentage.

NC remained at 68 wins, 56 losses and two draws. They tried to catch up to second-place KT and uproot fourth-place Doosan, but it wasn’t to be.

KIA had Lee Chang-jin (right fielder), Ko Jong-wook (designated hitter), Kim Do-young (third baseman), Socrates (center fielder), Kim Sun-bin (second baseman), Lee Woo-sung (left fielder), Byun Woo-hyuk (first baseman), Kim Tae-gun (catcher), and Park Chan-ho (shortstop) in the starting lineup. The lineup showed the absence of Choi Hyung-woo and Na Sung-beom, who are out for the season.

NC started Eric Peddy, who is looking to reach 20 wins. Son Asub (designated hitter), Park Min-woo (second base), Park Geon-woo (right field), Martin (center field), Kwon Hee-dong (left field), Oh Young-soo (first base), Seo Ho-cheol (third base), Ahn Jung-yeol (catcher), and Kim Han-byul (second base) made up the starting lineup. Seo Ho-cheol, who was hit by a head shot against Doosan on the 24th, started the game without being removed from the roster despite being diagnosed with a fractured nose. It was Touhon’s first start.

Heading for the 22nd 20-win season in history…and then the luck runs out

Pedi had pitched his worst game of the season on March 31 against the Gwangju KIA, giving up seven runs on eight hits with three walks and three strikeouts in three innings. Pedi must have been burning for revenge. With a win, he would become the 22nd pitcher in KBO history to win 20 games. He would also break the NC franchise record for most wins in a season (19). Eric Hacker won 19 games in 2015 and Drew Luchinski won 19 games in 2020.

Pedi was his usual dominant self. After giving up seven runs against the KIA, he pitched 21 1/3 innings with one earned run and 32 strikeouts. He started the game by getting Lee Chang-jin to ground out to third base and then retiring Ko Jong-wook and Kim Do-young on consecutive pitches. In the second inning, Socrates singled to left field, Kim grounded out to second base, and Lee Woo-sung grounded out to short. In the third, he struck out Byun Woo-hyuk and Kim Tae-gun and got Park Chan-ho to ground out to shortstop. But in the fourth inning, Pedi’s luck ran out, and he gave up the game-winning run.

KIA lucky to take the lead, substitute Kim Gun-gook struggles…the game turns strange

The KIA bats were stymied by Pedi, but in the top of the fourth inning, Ko Jong-wook drew blood with a double to left-center field. It was the first hit of the game and gave them a chance to score. In the next at-bat, Kim Do-young’s mis-hit ball dropped in front of the center fielder to put runners on first and second. Socrates then hit a hard grounder that went towards the first baseman and a fielder’s choice brought in the go-ahead run. After breaking the perfect streak, they scored immediately. Kim was stranded on first and third with one out. However, it was significant to get the first run against one of the best pitchers in the league.

On the mound, Kim Gun-gook, who was called upon as a substitute due to the doubleheader schedule, pitched a solid game. He was coming into the game with an ERA of 8.31 (8 earned runs in 8⅔ innings) in four games (three starts) this season without a win. After spending a year in the minors following his release from Lotte in 2021, Kim was given a chance to play again, and he pitched a solid outing against Pedi.

He gave up a leadoff single to Son As-seob in the first inning, but got Park Min-woo to pop out to second base to get out of the inning. Two batters later, he gave up a single to Oh Young-soo, but induced Seo Ho-cheol to ground out to shortstop to get out of the inning. The third inning was a no-hitter.

In the top of the fourth inning, the team scored the first run against Pedi, but Kim Gun-gook immediately gave up the tying run. In the bottom of the fourth, he gave up a leadoff single to Park Min-woo and a timely double to Park Gun-woo over the center field fence to tie the game at 1-1. However, he retired the next two batters he faced without allowing another run and left the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. 4⅔ innings, 5 hits, 2 walks, 1 run, 71 pitches. Before the game, manager Kim Jong-kook said, “It’s not easy to have a bullpen day because we have a doubleheader. I think it will help the team a lot if the substitutes can last at least four innings.” Kim lived up to his manager’s expectations.

Peddie’s gone, and it’s a wild 7th inning…KIA’s big inning without Choi Hyung-woo

NC Peddie went 6 innings, 3 hits, no walks, 8 strikeouts, 1 run. His pitch count was 94. It was a strong outing, but the KIA offense still managed to bite Pedi and keep him from getting out of the seventh inning. No-decision. After Pedi went down in the seventh, the KIA bats responded immediately. NC sent their second pitcher, Ryu Jin-wook, to the mound.

KIA pounded on Ryu. Leadoff hitter Socrates singled to left, Kim Sun-bin singled to right to put runners on first and third with no outs, and Lee Woo-sung singled to center to regain the lead at 2-1. A sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Park Jung-woo put runners on second and third, and Kim Tae-gun singled up the middle to score one more run. The chances continued. With runners on first and third, Park Chan-ho singled to right. Lee Chang-jin’s grounder to third put runners on second and third, and Ko Jong-wook’s grounder to second was misplayed by the first baseman, putting two runners on base. Park Min-woo had to shake his head, as the Koreans scored five runs in the seventh inning to make it 6-1.

KIA bullpen goes all out…NC’s late rally falls short

KIA mobilized its bullpen behind Kim Gun-gook. Kim Dae-yu (⅔ innings), Jang Hyun-sik (1 inning), Lee Jun-young (⅓ inning), and Lim Ki-young (⅓ inning) were used. Despite their best efforts to protect their lead, NC fought back late. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Martin, the leadoff hitter, swung at a 146-kilometer fastball from Jang Hyun-sik for a solo shot. His 15th home run of the season.

Then, with the bases loaded, Seo Ho-cheol took a 128km slider from Lim Ki-young for a solo shot to left. His second home run in as many games after being hit by a head shot and fracturing his nose on the 24th against Doosan. It was his fourth of the season. 3-6.

The game was briefly interrupted by a heavy rain shower from 9:08 to 18 minutes before the start of the eighth inning. In the bottom of the eighth, NC had a chance when leadoff hitter Kim Han-byul singled to right field after a 14-pitch walk. However, Kia mobilized Jeon Sang-hyun and Jung Hae-young to stop the NC rally.캡틴토토

In the bottom of the ninth, NC had runners on second and third with Kwon Hee-dong singling to left and Oh Young-soo doubling to left-center off Jung Hae-young, but Park Dae-on grounded out to second base to end the inning with just one run. KIA mobilized its six-man bullpen to secure the win.

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