Baltimore Orioles’ Kim turns it all around

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Baltimore Orioles’ Kim turns it all around

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The Baltimore Orioles outfielder Kim Hyun-soo looks on after belting a home run at the top of the ninth inning on Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Kim stepped in as a pinch hitter and saved the day for the O’s by cracking a two-run go-ahead homer. After the sixth home run of the season for Kim, the Orioles came out with a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays, adding more momentum as they strives toward the postseason. [AP/NEWSIS]

As it turns out, it took less than a season for all the jeers and taunts to turn into cheers and acclamations for Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Kim Hyun-soo, who salvaged the team from a miserable defeat by sending off a pinch-hit home run.

At the onset of the O’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Kim remained in the dugout while Nolan Reimold started out in left field. It looked like the day was going to come to its end without Kim seeing any time on the plate, but at the top of the ninth inning, with the O’s trailing 1-2, Kim replaced Reimold and stepped in as a pinch-hitter. The O’s had a runner on base, Michael Bourn, and one out when Kim grabbed his bat.

Kim’s at-bat against Blue Jay’s closer Roberto Osuna turned out to be an unexpected tug-of-war.

Going back and forth with strikes and balls, Kim hit three straight fouls at a 2-2 count. The eighth pitch by Osuna was also a ball. At full count now, Osuna tossed a 95.7-mile-per-hour four-seam fastball at Kim. Reacting to the pitch, Kim swung his bat and made solid contact, sending it off to right field and over the fence. It was a go-ahead two-run homer that gave the Orioles the lead at 3-2, his sixth of the season.

Stepping out for fielding in the bottom of the ninth, Kim seemed elated, and when the game was concluded with the O’s clinching their dramatic comeback victory, Kim’s teammates congratulated him for the winning homer.

“Couldn’t happen to someone better,” Orioles starter Chris Tillman said. “It was priceless, him coming in the dugout with a big smile on his face. Not a better guy for that to happen to.”

When asked about how he has had so much success pinch hitting this year, Kim answered through a translator that, “there is no other secret, if there is a secret to this, I make sure I am ready before going out to the plate and the hitting coach and other staff help me out, make sure I know who I am facing.”

He said about his home run of the day, “I wanted to survive at bat and so I tried to cut every ball possible.”

Survive is precisely what Kim has been trying to do throughout the season this year.

“Since declining the Orioles’ request to option him to Triple-A Norfolk at the start of this season and hearing jeers on opening day at Camden Yards, Kim has turned himself into one of the team’s most consistent - and popular - players,” said MLB.com about Kim after his homer.

Indeed, Kim came a long way from the onset of the season to where he is now. Kim joined the Orioles under a two-year deal worth $7 million after winning the Korean Series last year with Doosan Bears.

Although Kim was highly valued going into the spring camp, his position in the team quickly became precarious when he struggled mightily on the plate during the spring, batting a meager .178 with only eight hits during 45 at-bats in 17 games.

After the poor showing, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter tried to relegate Kim to the minors but they only could do so with Kim’s concession, according to his contract. Kim refused and stayed on but when he stepped into the stadium for the Orioles’ opening home game, he was booed by fans.

But now, after consistently getting to bases when the O’s needed him to, Kim is pleased to find that fans have made a dramatic about-face. No longer is he booed, but greeted with cheers and applause, with fans asking for his autograph after games. The Baltimore Sun, the local newspaper that covers the Orioles, even dubbed Kim “our Ichiro Suzuki,” citing his ability to get to base.

His homer on Wednesday bears another significance in that it came in an unlikely situation. According to the Statcast, Kim’s home run went over the fence with an exit velocity of 92.9 mph and a 25-degree launch angle. The MLB.com explained that on 91 previous hits with similar traits this year, none of them went over the fence. Also, the near 96-mile-per-hour fastball by Osuna is tied as being the fastest pitch he threw and was hit off for a dinger.

BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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