BUSAN -- The well-worn baseball cliche has it that pitching and defense help teams win championships. And in their crucial postseason victory in the Korea Baseball Organization on Saturday, the NC Dinos enjoyed some stellar pitching while exploiting their opponents' shoddy defense. They had smart base running to boot, making for a lethal combination against any team.
The Dinos defeated the Lotte Giants 9-2 at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, in Game 1 of their best-of-five first round series.
The winner of the first game in the first round went on to take the series in each of the past three years. The Dinos also snatched the home field advantage away from the Giants.
Mo Chang-min of the NC Dinos salutes his dugout after hitting a grand slam against the Lotte Giants in the top of the 11th inning in Game 1 of the clubs` first round postseason series in the Korea Baseball Organization at Sajik Stadium in Busan on Oct. 8, 2017. The Dinos went on to take the game 9-2. (Yonhap)
The Dinos exploded for seven runs in the top of the 11th inning in the resounding victory. Mo Chang-min's grand slam in that inning will stand out in the box score, but the Dinos did much more on the base path to make the slam possible.
Ji Seok-hun led off the 11th with a double, and took third on a pitch bounced in the dirt. Lotte catcher Kang Min-ho made a strong throw to third base and Ji would have been out easily if he hadn't deftly avoided the tag to slide in safely.
Ji scored the go-ahead run on a double by Kwon Hee-dong.
Lotte right-hander Chang Si-hwan, the team's third pitcher of the inning, came on to douse the fire, and struck out two batters, with runners at the corners.
But Chang's command deserted him. He walked a batter to the loaded bases, and walked another, Na Sung-bum, on six pitches.
Catcher Kang Min-ho mishandled the fourth ball in that at-bat, and No Jin-hyuk, who'd earlier reached on a fielder's choice and stole second, came all the way home to make it a 5-2 lead for the Dinos.
Mo then capped off the big inning with the grand slam, a knockout blow to an already staggering club.
NC Dinos` Ji Seok-hun (R) slides into third base safely after a wild pitch by Lotte Giants` Park Si-young in the top of the 11th inning in Game 1 of the clubs` first round postseason series in the Korea Baseball Organization at Sajik Stadium in Busan on Oct. 8, 2017. The Dinos went on to take the game 9-2. (Yonhap)
The Dinos also scored the first run of the game thanks to some speed. Leadoff man Park Min-woo hit a double off Lotte starter Josh Lindblom and moved to third on a groundout. Then when Lindblom threw a wild pitch, Park slid home to put the Dinos on the board.
The pitch didn't travel all that far from the plate, and Kang made a quick toss back to Lindblom covering home plate. Park was just quick enough to beat the tag.
The Dinos also stole four bases in this game. In the fourth, Mo stole second after a single, and came home to give the Dinos a 2-1 lead on Kwon Hee-dong's single.
At the other end, Lotte catcher Kang had a game he'd rather forget -- both at and behind the plate.
There were those three steals and the costly passed ball in the 11th inning. Batting fifth, Kang also came to the plate with men in scoring position three times and failed to rise to the occasion in each of them.
In the bottom of the first, the Giants had runners at first and second with two outs for Kang, who grounded out to second. In the third, also with two outs and men at first and second, Kang struck out swinging against NC starter Eric Hacker.
Hacker got the better of Kang again in the seventh inning. Once again, there were runners at first and second with two outs for Kang, who once again went down swinging.
Kang, who was second on the Giants with 22 homers this year, was 0-for-5 for the day.
Hacker was in line for his second career postseason victory, after holding the Giants to a run in seven strong innings on eight singles while striking out six. The first reliever out of the pen, Kim Jin-sung, allowed a game-tying solo home run in the eighth inning, before the Dinos put up a big number in the 11th.
Though Hacker wasn't credited with the win, NC manager Kim Kyung-moon said the American was still the team's best player of the game.
"Hacker pitched deep into the game, just as we'd hoped," the manager said. "That gave our bullpen a plenty of time to get ready and finish off the game."
Lotte manager Cho Won-woo said little things made a big difference in the game.
"We couldn't execute the small things in extra innings, and we'll try to address that," Cho said. "It was especially disappointing that Kang missed that pitch (on the passed ball) in the 11th." (Yonhap)