Dinos’ captain delivers on promise to win Korean Series, earns MVP award

November 24, 2020

 Two seasons into a mega four-year deal he signed as a free agent, NC Dinos’ captain Yang Eui-ji took the club to its first Korean Series championship.

And he didn’t ride on anyone’s coattails. Yang was voted the Korean Series MVP on Tuesday, after the Dinos clinched the title with a 4-2 win over the Doosan Bears in Game 6 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.

Yang earned 36 votes out of 80 cast by the media, three more than No. 1 starter Drew Rucinski.

Rucinski was the winning pitcher in both the opener and the clincher, and also recorded a save in Game 4 that allowed the Dinos to even the series at 2-2. With a 0.69 ERA in three appearances, Rucinski was also a deserving MVP candidate.

NC Dinos' captain Yang Eui-ji (C) lifts a sword in celebration of the team's Korean Series championship following a 4-2 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 6 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)
NC Dinos' catcher Yang Eui-ji and closer Won Jong-hyan celebrate their a 4-2 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 6 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)
NC Dinos' captain Yang Eui-ji poses with the Korean Series MVP trophy following a 4-2 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 6 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

NC Dinos’ captain Yang Eui-ji (C) lifts a sword in celebration of the team’s Korean Series championship following a 4-2 victory over the Doosan Bears in Game 6 at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

But Yang made his presence felt both at the plate and behind the dish, further cementing his legacy as the greatest two-way catcher of his generation in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Yang batted .318 with a home run and three RBIs, while hitting cleanup in all six games. Those three RBIs all came at critical junctures. The first one was the winning run in a 3-0 victory in Game 4. The latter two came courtesy of a two-run home run that opened up a 3-0 lead in Game 5, which the Dinos went on to win by 5-0.

With Yang calling the shots and guiding his pitchers, the Dinos blanked the Bears in those two straight games, and held them to just two runs in the clinching Game 6. Game 5 winner Koo Chang-mo and key reliever Kim Jin-sung all raved about Yang’s ability to make pitchers feel comfortable and call for right pitches at the right moments.

He was the 2016 Korean Series MVP for the Bears, when they swept the Dinos. Yang is the first player to win two Korean Series MVPs for two different clubs.

“I didn’t expect to win this award. I was just focusing on trying to win the title,” Yang said. “I’ll try to turn NC into a dynasty.”

After spending his fist 10 KBO seasons with the Bears, Yang signed a four-year deal worth 12.5 billion won (US$11.2 million) with the Dinos in December 2018. It made him the highest-paid catcher in the KBO and was the second-largest free agent contract in league history at the time.

As first-time captain for 2020, Yang had a monstrous regular season, setting career highs with 33 home runs and 124 RBIs, a single-season record for a catcher.

With Yang taking on the former team, the spotlight was placed firmly on the 33-year-old catcher. Yang admitted Tuesday he felt the weight of expectations.

He tried to relieve some of that stress by sharing some lighter moments with his former Bears teammates during earlier games. But then Yang stopped after getting criticized for not taking the championship series so seriously.

“Every single game was just so tough,” Yang said. “But I think we as a team will take away a lot of confidence from this title. I think the guys will all realize we have to keep working hard to stay at the top. We know what it takes to be at the top, and this is only the beginning.”

But there’s some celebrating to do before all of that.

“I just want to have a good time and get a good night’s sleep,” Yang said with a smile.

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