Left-hander Choi Ji-min, who was a must-win pitcher at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games, proved his worth once again.
The South Korean baseball team, led by Ryu Jung-il, finished as runners-up for the second consecutive tournament after losing to Japan 3-4 in 10 extra innings in the final of the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan on April 19.
In the end, Korea faced the same result as in the qualifiers, but the process exceeded expectations. The Koreans were relentless in the final as they were in the preliminaries, and unlike the preliminaries, the game was not decided in a regular inning. The game was tight throughout.
The pitchers stood out, especially Choi Ji-min, who kept the game close every time she took the mound.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the score tied at 2-2, the fourth pitcher, Choi Ji-min, had runners on first and second base. The third pitcher, Choi Jun-yong, gave up a leadoff double to Shogo Sakakura and a single to right by Chusei Mannami, which set the Korean bench in motion.굿모닝토토
Undaunted by the scoring situation, Choi Ji-min induced a swinging strikeout from the first batter, Makoto Kadawaki. The 147 km/h fastball was thrown particularly high, and Kadawaki’s bat spun without power. The bases were loaded with no outs, putting runners on second and third.
Choi Ji-min induced another left-hander, Teruaki Sato, to ground out to second base to end the inning. With that, South Korea closed out the eighth inning without a run and kept their hopes alive for the win.
Choi Ji-min was back on the mound in the bottom of the ninth. After a leadoff single to left field by Yuki Okabayashi, she struck out Kyota Fujiwara and then induced a grounder to shortstop by Kaito Kozuno to end the inning. A single run could have ended the game, but Choi shut down the Japanese lineup without allowing a single hit while facing five batters. The final line was 1⅔ innings of no-hit ball, no walks, and two strikeouts.
“The best thing is that I was able to finish the tournament without any injuries, and I was able to have fun and finish the last tournament of the year like this,” Choi told the media in the mix zone after the game. “It would have been better if I could have gone back to Korea with the championship, but it’s a bit disappointing to finish second.”
When asked why she expressed so much joy at the end of the eighth and ninth innings, Choi explained, “I reacted a little too much because I wanted the tide to turn in our favor, and because I blocked it well, I wanted the batters to try to score in the next inning, so that’s what I did.”
Choi was perfect in her first game of the tournament, a ⅔-inning no-hitter against Australia on Saturday, followed by a one-inning no-hitter against Chinese Taipei in the third game of the preliminary round on Sunday. Including the final, she pitched in three of South Korea’s four games.
If you include the Asian Games in Hangzhou (four games, four scoreless innings), Choi’s international record this year is 7⅓ scoreless innings. “I was confident in my pitches, and when (Kim) Hyung-joon followed his lead, it led to good results and I think I was able to close well (in crunch time),” Choi reflected.
This year, Choi has also had significant results for his team. With a 6-3 record in 58 games and 59 1/3 innings pitched, 12 holds, three saves, and a 2.12 ERA, Choi has become a key part of the KIA Tigers’ left-handed bullpen.
Still, Choi is not satisfied. “I think I need to take a break for next year and keep working out,” he said. “I’m going to do a lot of weight training during the offseason and try to build up my strength to last through next year.”
“I’m not looking to add more velocity. Instead, she will focus on her pitches. “I think finesse works better than restraint, so I’m going to focus on command rather than getting greedy with restraint,” Choi said.
After completing his 2023 schedule with the APBC, Choi is now looking forward to a better 2024. “First of all, I want to pitch in a lot of games where the team wins so that I can protect the victory, and I don’t want to get injured. I will prepare well so that the team can reach a higher level,” he said.