Hard-luck infielder makes memorable KBO postseason debut with offensive explosion

NC Dinos infielder Seo Ho-cheol made his first Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) postseason game count in a big way Thursday night, belting a grand slam and knocking in six runs in his team’s 14-9 win over the Doosan Bears in the wild card game.

Seo’s grand slam, which erased a 3-0 Bears lead at Changwon NC Park in the southeastern town of Changwon, was the first one in wild card history, which began in 2015. Seo’s six RBIs, aided by a two-run double in the seventh, were also a wild card game record.

As postseason performances go, this was one of the most improbable ones in recent memory.

Seo, who turned 27 on Monday, had never driven in more than three runs in any of his 205 career regular season games. He had all of seven career long balls, with zero grand slams.

Seo was drafted in the ninth round by the Dinos in 2018 and made his KBO debut in May 2020. By the time the Dinos captured their first Korean Series title that fall, though, Seo was fulfilling his mandatory military service duty.

The Dinos missed the postseasons in 2021 and 2022, as Seo tried to work his way into the regular lineup.

Seo set career highs across the board this year, appearing in 114 games and batting .287/.331/.383 with five homers and 41 RBIs. But those numbers could have been better if not for some tough-luck injuries.

In April, Seo took a pitch to the head and missed 10 days. And he sat out for 10 more days in August, while batting .301, after hurting his left pinky on a slide.

In late September, Seo suffered a broken nose after getting hit by a pitch. Then on Oct. 9, an ankle injury forced Seo to the sidelines with the postseason fast approaching.

He missed the final week of the regular season but returned to action just in time to deliver his heroics Thursday.

With his three hits, six RBIs and two runs, Seo was voted the MVP of the game.

The wild card game was also a first for Changwon NC Park, which opened in 2019.

The Dinos lost the wild card game on the road that year. Then in 2020, all Korean Series games were played at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, which served as the neutral venue designed to limit traveling at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dinos celebrated their inaugural championship on unfamiliar soil.

When COVID-19 restrictions eased over the next two years, the Dinos failed to make the postseason. They came back this time, and by beating the Bears, they’ve earned themselves at least one more postseason game in the next round.

The Dinos will take on the SSG Landers in the best-of-five first round, beginning Sunday. As the No. 3 seed, the Landers will have the home field advantage of the fourth-seed Dinos.

Source: Yonhap News Agency