The semi-playoffs (best-of-five, best-of-three) between NC and SSG in the 2023 Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) were highlighted by a fiery batting matchup. NC, which finished fourth in the regular season, posted a season team batting average of 0.270, ranking third behind LG and KIA. The top of the lineup was on fire, including Son Asub, who won the individual batting title (0.339), as well as Park Min-woo and Park Gun-woo. SSG, featuring Choi Jung, also showed off its offensive prowess, ranking fourth in team batting average (0.260).
Both teams shined with their long balls. SSG led the league in both long balls (370) and net batting average (0.129), while NC ranked second (349) and third (0.117), respectively. In the shortened postseason (PS), long balls can seal the deal or turn the tide of a game, so it came down to which team had more “crazy players.
In Games 1 and 2, NC’s bats were hotter. NC’s Kim Sung-wook came up as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of Game 1 on the 22nd and hit the game-winning two-run shot, while Kim Hyung-joon hit a walk-off solo shot in the eighth inning of Game 2 the following day to give NC a narrow 4-3 lead. SSG, on the other hand, didn’t have a standout hitter other than Han Yoo-seom’s multi-hit performance in Game 2. It was a shame that the team’s signature player Choi Jung-jeong was batting just 0.143 until the second game, as NC took both the first game (4-3) and the second game (7-3) with a firepower advantage.
NC’s unstoppable batting lineup exploded again. NC won a hard-fought game against SSG to advance to the best-of-five series (PO). NC won 7-6 at home in the third game of the semifinals at NC Park in Changwon, Gyeongnam, on the 25th. Having won all four PS games from the wild-card decider against Doosan to the semifinals, NC will now face regular-season runner-up KT in the PO on the 30th.
The hot bats of both teams made it difficult for the starting pitchers of both teams to last long. NC starter Tanner Tully struggled with 5 runs on 5 hits in 2 innings, while Oh Won-seok took the loss with 5 runs on 5 hits in 1.1 innings.
It was NC that succeeded in overpowering Gisun. In the bottom of the first inning, Kwon Hee-dong singled with runners on second and third to make it 2-0, and Seo Ho-cheol followed with a double to bring home Kwon Hee-dong, who was on first base, to make it 3-0.
Pushed to the brink, SSG fought back. Leading the way was the slumping Choi Jeong. Down 1-3 with two outs in the top of the second inning, Choi took a Tanner fastball for a grand slam to cut the deficit to 5-3. It was Choi’s 13th career home run, tied for second all-time behind Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop (14), and moved him past Hong Sung-hoon (retired – 42) to become the PS’s all-time RBI leader (43).
While SSG seemed to have turned the tide, a crazy player emerged from NC, who also wanted to end the series on this day. It was foreign hitter Jason Martin. With runners on first and second in the bottom of the second inning, NC tied the game at 7-5 when Martin, batting fourth, hit a three-run arch over the right-center field fence.
SSG then tried to make a comeback in the top of the fourth inning, but NC’s bullpen was able to hold on to the one-run lead and end the series. Martin was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the game, while pitcher Kim Young-gyu, who appeared in all three games of the series (one win and two losses) and threw 3.2 scoreless innings, was honored as the Semi-Po MVP.