This star is looking like a black holeIt is the playoffs. It is that time of the year when you might ask your employer for vacation time, or encourage your wife to take a trip so you can kick back, relax and watch your games in peace with a nice cold brew.
The first game in the American League division playoff series between the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics was everything a fan could hope for, showing why the playoffs are so much fun. All that pressure. You can feel the intensity.
What is the verdict on Red Sox closer Kim Byung-hyun, who will be the only Korean in the majors to play a key role in the playoffs? On Thursday, Kim failed to do his job. There is no other way to put it.
Closers have to be aggressive when they step on the mound. They do not have the luxury of working a lineup like a starting pitcher, no time to establish a pitch and set up the batter for a later at-bat. The strategy is “Here it is, hit it if you can.” That is the mentality a closer works with.
Tons of players in the majors never make it to a World Series or even a playoffs berth. But in his five years in the majors, BK, as he is known by fans, already boasts two playoff appearances and one World Series.
Considering that his other post-season work came in the last two seasons, one might think he has an edge by experience. But we all know that anything can happen in the playoffs.
Maybe the fact that BK never had a career save against Oakland was a foreshadowing. (He was not facing New York, so I thought he would do his job.)
Throwing a strike on the first pitch is the best thing a pitcher can do. Being 0-1 means the pitcher can work the corners and move in and out of the strike zone almost at will. In my opinion, a pitcher should always try to throw a strike in his first pitch if he can. Kim did not follow such advice; he dug himself into a hole and paid the price.
Because of Kim, two players ended up on base, one from a walk and another hit by a pitch. Alan Embree, who took over for Kim at that point, gave up the hit that called in the tying run for Oakland. But BK started the problem. Base on balls! If there is one sin that damns a pitcher it is giving up a run in such a manner, and the way Kim did it was ugly. Four straight balls off the plate! You just cannot do that and expect to be feared, or employed. A base on balls gives the other team a chance to rack up a big inning.
Kim clocked a 155 kilometer-per- hour (97 mile-per-hour) fastball but it did not do him much good. Hitting Chris Singleton showed he was out of control. Accuracy makes a fastball lethal. Velocity is a secondary. If the Red Sox decided on Kim as the closer after lifting Mike Timlin (a questionable call) they should have left Kim in for the duration of the game. He did not look very good, walking and hitting two batters, but by fanning Mark Ellis, Kim was only one out shy of the save.
Kim failed to erase his nightmares of the past with another poor performance at a time when it mattered most. This failure will be remembered more than anything he did in the regular season.
When the dust settles and if the Red Sox do not advance in the playoffs, Kim might not have to fight the reputation that he is a closer who cannot handle the Yankees.
He might soon be known simply as someone who chokes in big games.
by Brian Lee
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