By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) — An up-and-down rookie major league season for the South Korean pitcher Kim Kwang-hyun has ended with the St. Louis Cardinals’ exit from the first round of the postseason.
The Cardinals lost to the San Diego Padres 4-0 in Game 3 of their National League Wild Card Series on Friday (local time), and bowed out of the best-of-three series 2-1. The Cardinals won the first game of the series 7-4 on Wednesday, with Kim as the surprising starter, but couldn’t finish off the upstart Padres over the next two games.
This concludes an excellent rookie campaign in Major League Baseball (MLB) for Kim, who signed a two-year, US$8 million contract with the Cardinals in December after spending 13 years with the SK Wyverns in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).
During the regular season, Kim went 3-0 with a save and a 1.62 ERA in eight appearances, including seven starts. In Game 1 against the Padres, Kim gave up three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings, leaving the game with the Cardinals up 6-3 and coming up four outs shy of qualifying for a victory.
Kim was an MVP-winning starting pitcher in South Korea, but the Cardinals didn’t guarantee him a spot in their rotation right away. Instead, they promised Kim an opportunity to earn his place at spring training.
Kim held up his end of the bargain, pitching eight scoreless innings across four spring training games, including two starts, while recording 11 strikeouts against just one walk.
But then the coronavirus outbreak hit MLB, which halted spring training and didn’t open the regular season until late July. When clubs returned in mid-July for some last-minute summer camp, Kim was unexpectedly named the Cardinals’ new closer, despite his lack of closing experience in South Korea.
Kim recorded his first career save on Opening Day on July 24, while giving up two runs — one unearned run — in the ninth inning in a 5-4 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t done wreaking havoc on MLB. Due to an outbreak within their clubhouse, the Cardinals were forced to go on a two-week hiatus. And when they returned, Kim was thrust into the rotation to fill in for injured veterans.
Kim acquitted himself in his first big league start on Aug. 17, giving up a run on three hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs. Then the left-hander went on an impressive run over his next four outings, pitching 24 straight innings without surrendering an earned run and lowering his ERA all the way to 0.63.
After his start on Sept. 1, Kim suffered a kidney ailment and spent a night at a Chicago hospital during a road trip. Kim spent a dozen days on the injured list and then fired seven shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in what was his best start of 2020.
Kim gave up five earned runs over his final 10 1/3 innings of the season, not enough to put a dent on a fine season in which he’s had to overcome many hurdles.
Kim received the Game 1 nod against the Padres ahead of more established big league arms, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty. Things looked promising early when the Cardinals scored four runs in the top of the first inning, but Kim gave a run back in each of his first three innings, unable to last long enough to put himself in line for a win.
The Cardinals’ exit leaves just one South Korean player in the postseason — Tampa Bay Rays’ first baseman Choi Ji-man. The Rays knocked out the Toronto Blue Jays in two straight games of their Wild Card Series this week, with South Korean ace Ryu Hyun-jin getting saddled with the loss in Game 2. Ryu gave up seven runs — four unearned — on eight hits in just 1 2/3 innings in that disastrous start.
Choi, who didn’t face Ryu, came on as a pinch hitter later in Game 2 and went 0-for-2. Choi didn’t have a hit in three at-bats in that series.