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3 yrs removed from KBO title, Dinos make another push with new-look roster

Oct. 25, 2023 - 09:55 By Yonhap
NC Dinos reliever Kim Young-kyu pitches against the SSG Landers during the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 2 of the first round series in the Korea Baseball Organization postseason at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, west of Seoul, on Monday. (Yonhap)

The NC Dinos won their first and so far only Korean Series title three years ago, but three years can be like an eternity in baseball.

From the Dinos' title-winning roster of 30 players in 2020, only seven have returned for this year's postseason in the Korea Baseball Organization. And one of those seven didn't even play any game in 2020 but has been a key contributor this year, as the Dinos sit a win away from reaching the next round.

Change is the name of the game: players are cut, traded or demoted to the minor or they lose their fight against Father Time and fade into obscurity.

Even the Dinos' coaching staff have gone through an overhaul over the past three years. Out of eight coaches in 2020, only the third base coach Lee Jong-wook and fielding instructor Jin Jong-kil are still with the Dinos, with former bench coach Kang In-kwon having taken over as manager.

Among pitchers, only Lim Jung-ho, Kim Young-kyu and Song Myung-gi are back from 2020. But their roles have changed dramatically on the 13-man staff.

Lim, 33, appeared in five of the Dinos' six games in the Korean Series three years ago, and was charged with three earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings.

Lim faced one batter in this year's wild card game last week but has yet to pitch in the ongoing series against the SSG Landers.

Kim Young-kyu, a 20-year-old sophomore in 2020, made a strong Korean Series debut then, holding the Doosan Bears to one unearned run in 2 2/3 innings. He has been an even more important reliever this year, the key left-handed setup man with 3 1/3 shutout innings so far.

Also 20 in 2020, right-hander Song Myung-gi pitched six shutout innings across two games in the Korean Series then. He hasn't quite blossomed into the pitcher many expected him to be, but is a versatile pitcher who can start or pitch in relief on short notice. He was the Game 2 starter against the Landers on Monday night, and gave up two runs on two hits in three innings as the Dinos won 7-3.

The 23-year-old catcher Kim Hyung-jun leads all postseason contestants this year with three home runs in three games. He didn't even play any game in the 2020 Korean Series, with the All-Star backstop Yang Eui-ji getting all the action en route to earning his series MVP award.

Kim isn't the star that Yang was back then but his power surge has pushed the Dinos to the verge of reaching the next stage.

Veteran second baseman Park Min-woo is the only infielder left from the 2020 Korean Series squad. He is also one of the few remaining original Dinos who played in their inaugural season in 2013.

Park batted .261 with two RBIs in six Korean Series games three years ago. So far this postseason, Park is hitting .272 with two runs scored and one steal in three games.

The outfield corps has brought back two players from 2020: Kwon Hui-dong and Kim Seong-uk.

Kim delivered a pinch-hit two-run homer in a 4-3 win in Game 1 on Sunday. He logged only one plate appearance in 2020 while mostly playing as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner, and remains a key bench piece this year.

Kwon had an excellent Korean Series in 2020, batting .417 with two doubles and four runs scored. The 32-year-old has been quieter this fall, with a .181 batting average in three games. (Yonhap)