LG Twins captain Oh Ji-hwan, 33, had red in his face and eyes. With temperatures hovering around freezing, the captain proved his worth by hitting a dramatic three-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
Oh Ji-hwan emerged as a hero with a miraculous come-from-behind three-run arch with two outs in the top of the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO Postseason Korean Series (KS-7 best-of-4) against KT Wiz at KT Wiz Park in Suwon on Tuesday.
Oh’s home run came in the top of the ninth inning with his team trailing 5-7. In fact, LG was leading 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning when closer Ko Woo-seok took the mound, but he gave up the tying run to Hwang Jae-gyun and then a two-run double to Park Byung-ho.
Then came the top of the ninth. Leadoff hitter Hong Chang-ki led off with an infield single against KT closer Kim Jae-yoon, but Park Hae-min and Kim Hyun-soo followed with walks to load the bases with two outs. Austin fought through a 1-2 unfavorable pitch count and drew a seven-pitch walk to load the bases. The next batter was Oh Ji-hwan.
He calmly picked off Kim Jae-yoon’s first-pitch forkball. The next pitch was a 145-kilometer fastball in the middle of the plate, and Oh swung hard at it. The ball sailed over the right field fence for a three-run home run. The LG fans gathered at Wiz Park went into a frenzy, and Kim Jae-yoon, who had allowed the home run, stood there in disbelief.
Oh Ji-hwan’s home run gave LG an 8-7 victory. Although they dropped game one, they took game two and then game three to take a 2-1 series lead. They also had an 85% chance of winning the series. In the history of the KBO Korean Series, the first team to win the second game after a 1-1 tie has won 85% of the time (17 out of 20 times). After the game, the Daily MVP for Game 3 of the Korean Series was awarded to Oh Ji-hwan. LG and KT will now play Game 4 of the Korean Series at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the same venue.
“Going into the Korean Series, there was something I talked about with my teammates. When (Park) Byung-ho hit a two-run homer (in the eighth inning), it seemed like the atmosphere had calmed down. (In the top of the ninth), we said, “We’re batting first, so let’s take our chances here. I said, “We won’t know until the game is over, so let’s do it. First (Hong) Chang-ki got a hit and then (Park) Hae-min struck out, but I think there was some desperation there. I felt it too,” he said.
“I was hoping that Austin would just keep fouling off pitches and hang in there and get a hit or get on base somehow. My goal was to get a hit the next time I came up to bat, or to get the next guy on base, so I went into the at-bat with that mentality, and I think that’s what really paid off for me.”
“I wasn’t sure if it was a forkball or a changeup in the first at-bat, but it was missing a little bit, so when the count was one pitch, I was already confident. I aimed for a fastball unconditionally, and I swung with the mindset that I was confident and had to turn the bat, but it hit me like a lie and went over,” he recalled.
True to his word, Kim Jae-yoon’s first pitch was a forked ball that sailed well outside. KT catcher Jang Jang-woo stretched out his left hand to catch the mitt, and afterward, Jang visited the mound to talk to Kim. When asked about the scene, Oh said, “I was just thinking about it from (Jang) Sung-woo’s point of view. (Kim) Jae-yoon is the best closer in Korea, and he starts with a changeup. …. I don’t know the conversation, I just had a feeling that he would have said, ‘Throw it in your usual style,’ so I just kept it simple. It was a one-ball count, so it was a favorable count for the batter. And then the fastball came in like a real lie, and I believe that’s what happened (in the conversation).” He even predicted the conversation between the pitcher, catcher, and batter in that tense moment. 캡틴토토
There were also trials. On this day, Oh was starting at shortstop and batting fifth, and he made a critical error in the bottom of the fifth inning with his team leading 3-1. With the bases loaded and one out, LG’s bullpen pitcher Jung Woo-young induced Jang Jang-woo to ground out. A throwing error by LG’s left fielder Moon Sung-joo put runners on first and second and third in a chaotic situation, and Ham Deok-joo hit back-to-back singles to make it 3-4.
“It was very cold out,” Oh said of the mistake. Obviously, the runner on first base was Byung-ho, and the batter was Sung-woo, so I knew it was okay not to rush it. The ground at Wizpark in Suwon is actually a bit hard, but when I saw the ball being bound, I knew I had to go forward. Then I realized I should have stopped, but I didn’t. It was my mistake. There was a little bit of pressure on me because my mistake put us in a big spot, but the only positive thing I could take away from it was the fact that we still had more than three innings left. Even though I gave up three runs, I was still down by one, so I was hoping for one more chance. (Park) Dong-won hit the game-winning home run, and after that, I was back on track. I think I just kept my mind off it,” he reflected.
When asked which moment he was happier about, Park’s game-winning two-run shot in Game 2 or his own game-winning two-run shot in Game 3, Oh said, “I’m happy for both. First of all, we have two wins, so we have the advantage. In that sense, I can say that Dong-won and I played a part. We’re both important players on the team, and I think it means a lot that we scored the game-winning runs in our chances. It’s also my first Korean Series experience. It’s also my first home run in the postseason, so it means a lot to me.”
LG is trying to win the title again, 29 years after winning the combined title in 1994. It’s also been 21 years since they were runners-up in the 2002 Korean Series. Oh was drafted in the first round in 2009 and has grown into a franchise star for the team. At the Korean Series media day, Oh said, “I’m having a really happy time. We prepared thoroughly. The players are confident. “KT’s starting lineup is good, but we expected a six-game series to win the game at home,” he said. And in the Korean Series, he has come into his own. In Game 2 of the Korean Series, he hit a solo shot in the sixth inning to rally his team from a 1-4 deficit and set the stage for the win. In Game 3, he hit the game-winning three-pointer. If LG wins the Korean Series, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) will receive a special gift. It’s a watch that the late Koo Bon-moo, chairman of LG Group and the first owner of the LG Twins, who passed away in 2018, bought for the Korean Series MVP on a business trip abroad in 1998.
When asked about it, Oh said, “Jokingly, the mood in our dugout was like, ‘Isn’t this actually the end of the game when (Park) hits two game-winning home runs?’ I remembered a funny situation like that. He said he wanted me to get the watch, but for me, winning is actually the first thing. It’s been 15 years for me, 29 years for the fans, and this moment hasn’t happened yet, so it’s really a big goal to win. I want to buy it for me because I’ve been working for 15 years, but I don’t put a lot of importance on it. It’s just a goal, and I just want my team to play well and win. I don’t have any greed,” he said sincerely.
Commenting on the three consecutive one-run games, Oh said, “Our team basically has the most come-from-behind wins (in the regular season). So (in the Korean Series), I feel like we’re in a good position to create chances to come from behind at any given moment. We’ve got fast runners, we’ve got guys who can make contact, we’ve got long balls,” he said. “I’m just thinking about winning. We’ve got to win a lot of games soon. You never know what’s going to happen, that’s baseball. In real baseball, one out, one ball, and the game can change like that. I don’t plan on relaxing at all. As a captain, I’m just trying to bring a good vibe to the team,” he said.