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Closer retires just 7 saves short of all-time record

Feb 10,2020
Seven saves from becoming Korean baseball’s all-time leader, veteran closer Son Seung-lak abruptly announced his retirement on Friday.

Son Seung-lak of the Lotte Giants celebrates after picking up a save during a game against the Kia Tigers at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju on March 19, 2019. [ILGAN SPORTS]
The Lotte Giants of the KBO said Son, 37, decided to call it quits after negotiations to re-sign with the club fell through.

The right-hander is retiring with 271 saves, only six behind the career leader in the category, Oh Seung-hwan of the Samsung Lions. Oh spent the past six years in Japan and in Major League Baseball before rejoining the Lions for this season. Oh is in rehab following an offseason elbow surgery and is also serving a 72-game suspension over an earlier gambling conviction - all of which would have left the doors open for Son to take the lead in career saves, if only briefly.

But the Giants said Son was “insistent” about retiring now rather than going through more rounds of contract talks. He also told the club he wanted to step aside for younger pitchers and start spending more time with his family.

After graduating from Yeungnam University, Son joined the KBO with the Hyundai Unicorns in 2005. Son appeared in 26 games during his rookie season in 2005, with a 5.43 ERA, while picking up five wins and 10 losses.

Then, starting in the 2010 season, Son earned a spot as a closer with the Nexen Heroes, now called the Kiwoom Heroes. Having picked up 26 saves in 2010, Son won the KBO’s saves title. He then had his career best season in 2013, where he picked up three wins, two losses and 46 saves with a 2.30 ERA throughout 57 games, good enough to win the saves title once again.

In 2014, Son won the saves title for the third time with 32 saves. After a successful career as the Heroes’ closer, Son signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Giants, for 6 billion won ($5 million) over four years following the 2015 season.

Although he struggled during his first season with the Giants, he managed to bounce back in 2017, his second season as the Giants’ closer, by picking up 37 saves and finishing with a 2.18 ERA throughout 61 games.

He collected 94 saves in four seasons with the Giants, whom he joined as a free agent after eight seasons with the Nexen, currently the Kiwoom Heroes, franchise. Son set a Giants franchise record with 37 saves in 2017.

He recorded only nine saves in the 2019 season throughout 57 games, ending his nine-year streak of consecutive seasons with double-digit saves.

After 12 seasons in the KBO, Son finished with a 3.64 ERA throughout 601 games, picking up 45 wins, 49 losses, 271 saves and seven holds.

The Giants plan to hold a retirement ceremony for Son during the upcoming season.

BY KANG YOO-RIM, YONHAP [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]


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