“It’s not like it’s a tournament the next day, so I want him to play the day before.”
Before their game against the LG Twins on Wednesday, Hanwha Eagles manager Choi Won-ho talked about the Hangzhou Asian Games baseball team. One player he wanted to give one more at-bat before the team was called up was Noh Si-hwan. It was to gauge his skills and performance,안전놀이터 as well as his weight in the team’s batting order.
The Hanwha Eagles defeated LG 5-3 in the final game of a three-game weekend series at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. With their second straight two-run victory, Hanwha recorded their first winning series in more than 20 days after sweeping the Doosan Bears from November 11-13 last month.
The hero of the weekend for the Jamsil Bees was undoubtedly Noh Si-hwan. The previous day’s game was a coronation. After a two-week hiatus since the 19th of last month, Noh hit his 30th home run of the season. It was the first time in 20 years since Kim Tae-gyun in 2003 that a player under the age of 23 hit 30 home runs. It was a feat previously accomplished only by the greats of the era, such as Jang Jong-hoon, Kim Ki-tae, Park Jae-hong and Lee Seung-yup.
The 23-year-old slugger’s performance continued the next day. He only had one hit, but it proved crucial. In the top of the second inning, with runners on first and second, LG starter Im Chan-kyu lined a 138-kilometer-per-hour fastball directly over the top of the deepest center field fence in Jamsil Stadium. Both runners came home with plenty of room. It was a huge arch that would have been his 31st home run of the season if it had gone to left, right or center.
Even in the at-bats where he didn’t record a hit, he felt the impact. In the first inning, he drew a walk after a dogged eight-pitch battle. Although he was denied by a picturesque diving catch by Oh Ji-hwan, his three-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning was sharp enough.
This clutch performance contrasted with the LG bats’ performance on the day. LG batters relentlessly pounded Hanwha starter Moon Dong-ju, who took the mound for the last time this season. They collected 11 hits, long and short, until one out in the fifth inning. The problem was the lack of a clutch hit. Despite piling up runners in scoring position, they were unable to capitalize. In the end, they failed to capitalize on their bullpen, scoring just three runs on 14 hits.
The home run race between the senior and junior third basemen in the league is a close one. As Noh passed the 30-homer plateau, SSG Landers’ Choi Jung-jeong followed suit with his 25th of the season against the KIA Tigers. With the chase on, Noh will need to widen the gap as much as possible before the national team convenes on April 22 to have a shot at the title. If he eventually secures the top spot, he will become the fourth-youngest home run king in KBO history, joining Lee Seung-yeop, Jang Jong-hoon and Park Jae-hong.