Closer Yong Chan Lee shaken again, NC’s tailgate woes continue

NC’s Lee Yong-chan puts his hand to his head after being hit by KT’s Jangan-dong Cho Won-dong during the ninth inning of the baseball game between KT Wiz and NC Dinos in the first round of the ‘2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO Postseason’ playoffs at KT Wiz Park in Jangan-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, on October 30.

The NC Dinos defeated the KT Wiz in the first game of the best-of-five playoffs to extend their winning streak to five games in fall baseball. However, the game was marred by a “sour note” when closer Lee Yong-chan gave up the winning run in the final inning. Along with that, the tailgate woes that had been forgotten for a while resumed.

NC won the first game of the playoffs against KT 9-5 at KT Wiz Park in Suwon on April 30. The win gave NC a 78.1 percent chance of advancing to the Korean Series (based on a best-of-five series).

It was a flawless game until the eighth inning. Starting pitcher Eric Peddy shut down the KT bats with six innings of 12-strikeouts and one run, and the offense took advantage of the early lead by shutting down their ace, William Cuevas. NC took a 9-1 lead into the top of the ninth inning and seemed to be on their way to a complete victory.

However, things got weird in the bottom of the ninth. After Kim Si-hoon failed to get out of the first inning and faced a bases-loaded jam, the NC bench brought in closer Lee Yong-chan, determined not to let KT get away with an eight-run lead.

Lee Yong-chan was the first batter to face Choi Byeong-dae, who was not in the best of form on the day, as he hit a double in the seventh inning and made an error on defense.

But Yoo faced the worst possible situation. A fastball was driven right into the middle of the plate, and he couldn’t miss it. The big hit went over the left field fence for a grand slam. Lee Yong-chan, who realized it was a home run the moment he hit it, couldn’t hide his devastated expression. The NC bench’s pitching change, which did not give KT any momentum, also failed.

Lee Yong-chan struck out the next batter, Lee Sang-ho, to end the game without allowing any more runs, but that didn’t stop him from feeling frustrated.

Lee Yong-chan, who started to lose pace in the last part of the regular season, has been the biggest problem for NC, which is currently on a roll.

However, NC head coach Kang Myung-hwa vowed to keep him as the closer, and he seemed to settle down after pitching a no-hitter in the second and third games of the semifinals against SSG Landers.

However, he got into trouble again in the first game of the playoffs when he gave up a walk-off home run. Again, it’s hard to know what the outcome would have been if NC hadn’t scored early.

In fall baseball, where every game is tightly contested, a shaky tailgate can be devastating. Especially if the closing pitcher gives away the game, the repercussions carry over to the next game. Inconsistent pitching is the biggest risk for the high-flying NC.

The good news is that the NC offense is in good shape right now. They’ve been hitting home runs every game and have become a terror on the opposing mound. A big inning early, like the one in Game 1, could offset some of the tailgate anxiety.

Of course, Yong-chan himself needs to find a solution to reduce his anxiety. He should look for ways to change his pitching patterns, such as using his slider or curveball more often, or using his lesser-used changeup. We can’t keep relying on the bats forever. It’s imperative that Yong-chan regains his form. 스포츠토토맨

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