Closing in on the all-time saves record
The Samsung Lions’ Oh Seung-hwan, Doosan Bears’ Jung Jae-hun and Hanwha Eagles’ Koo Dae-sung are ranked 1-2-3 in the league in saves, and with about 40 games left in their respective teams’ schedules, all have a chance to break the single-season record of 42 saves, set in 2000 by Bears closer Jin Pil-jung.
Oh, 23, a right-handed flamethrower with rookie of the year and Korean Series most valuable player awards under his belt, leads with 29 saves through Monday. He frequently reaches above 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles) on radar guns, and this year added a curveball to his repertoire of fastball and slider.
But it’s his mental makeup, which has earned him the nickname “Mr. Poker Face,” that has impressed veterans.
“He exudes so much confidence on the mound,” Eagles’ starter Song Jin-woo, who has more wins than any other pitcher in Korean baseball history with 199 and counting, told the local sports daily Sports Seoul. “And I am really impressed with how his facial expression never changes in different situations, especially for someone his age.” Song also complimented Oh’s improved off-speed pitches, adding, “Now, hitters can’t afford to just wait for his fastball.”
“This year, he is throwing fastballs early in the count, and catching guys off-guard,” said Yoon Sok-hwan, the Bears’ pitching coach, in a postgame press conference in June. “That’s why this year, he’s getting a lot of strikeouts looking, whereas last year, guys swung at his forkball for strikeouts.”
Koo has had his share of strikeouts, punching out 55 batters in 47.1 innings. Pitching in his first season back from a stint with the New York Mets, he has 26 saves on the year, his sixth consecutive Korean baseball season with at least 20 saves. Though at 37, his velocity isn’t where it once was, his unique, corkscrew delivery ― the lefty turns his back toward first base to hide his pitch until right before his release ― is still as effective as ever.
He experienced a setback this season, however, getting hit in the forehead by a piece of a broken bat in a freak incident during a game on June 27. Koo took 20 stitches, but suffered no structural damage.
Undeterred ― he was seen playing a video game in his room the morning after the injury ― Koo was back on the mound just five days later, tossing scoreless two-thirds of an inning against the Hyundai Unicorns.
by Yoo Jee-ho