Three years ago, Park Chan-ho, 28, of the KIA Tigers, was considered a player who had no use for anything but defense. Now, the former league’s least productive hitter is an indispensable part of the team.
On Thursday, KIA defeated KT Wiz 7-3 in an away game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League regular season at KT Wiz Park in Jangan-gu, Suwon.
Park Chan-ho was the star of the game. Starting at second and shortstop, he made his mark first on defense. KIA’s starting pitcher on the day was Thomas Panoni, who utilized his cutter to induce a lot of ground balls. Park steadily handled the ground balls that came his way early on. In the fifth inning, he tried to make a backhanded catch on a Kim Jun-tae hit and missed, but soon after, he made a great catch behind his head on an elusive line drive between the center field and second base line hit by Kim Sang-soo.
With the score tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Kim made an animalistic catch at second base to cover up an error by junior Kim Do-young. Jang Sung-woo hit a fastball that slipped between the third baseman and shortstop. The ball deflected off Kim Do-young’s glove as he tried to catch it, but Park Chan-ho, who was in the cover behind the plate, calmly threw to first base for the final out. It was a fantastic defense that gave KIA the win.
At the plate, Park began to make his presence felt late in the game. Park Chan-ho was everywhere in Kia’s late-game rally. After hitting infield grounders in his first two at-bats, Park made a head-first sliding catch on a grounder in the top of the sixth inning with KIA trailing 1-2. KT second baseman Lee Ho-yeon made a bad throw to the dugout after noticing Park’s quick feet, allowing him to advance to second base. Na Sung-bum followed with a single to center field, scoring Park and tying the game at 2-2.
In the top of the eighth inning, with KIA trailing 2-3, Park Chan-ho drew a full count against Park Young-hyun and stole second base to create a scoring opportunity. Choi Hyung-woo brought him home with a single to right-center, tying the game at 3-3. With the score tied at 3-3 in the ninth, Choi took the game into his own hands. With the bases loaded and two outs, Park lined a full-count double to right field against Kim Jae-yoon to make it a 5-3 game. He then came home on Na Sung-beom’s triple to give KIA a 7-3 victory.
After the game, Park Chan-ho said, “I would have preferred a changeup (for the game-winning hit), but I think I was lucky to get it,” adding, “I think it worked because I went in with a more seasoned and mature mindset at the plate. In the past, I used to hit blindly, but this year, I think about how to solve a certain pitcher’s course in the at-bat.”
Park Chan-ho is KIA’s new go-to guy. His .341 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks first on the KIA team and sixth in the KBO. On this day, he also showed his clutch ability at crucial moments. “I’m honestly more confident in the scoring zone. Whether I’m batting first or ninth, there are always hitters behind me who can hit better than me. The other team would rather have me in scoring position than the guy behind me. That’s why I feel more relaxed when I step up to bat,” he said with a smile.
Park is batting .389 (28-for-72) in August and .374 (34-for-91) in the second half of the year, but he’s holding off on evaluating himself until September. That’s because last year he had a good August, batting .333 (84-for-28), but a poor September, batting .206 (22-for-107).
He said, “Actually, even if I’m hitting well right now, I’m anxious. It’s a lot of anxiety. Last year, I was good until August. From September and October, my performance dropped, so I think this year is still to be seen. I think the evaluation of whether I have grown or not will depend on how I hold up in September and October this year.” He added, “I’m preparing well. I’m always working hard to improve, so I’m hoping for good results.”
Park’s 2-for-4 performance with two doubles, a triple, three runs scored, one walk and one stolen base puts him on pace for a triple in his rookie season, as he batted .298 with two home runs, 39 RBIs, 54 runs scored, 21 doubles, a .357 on-base percentage, a .368 slugging percentage and a .725 OPS in 101 games. He ranked at the top of a number of offensive metrics among shortstops, including first in hits, first in stolen bases, first in on-base percentage, and second in OPS, making him a strong Golden Glove candidate alongside Oh Ji-Hwan (LG Twins). Consider that in 2020, he hit .221 with a .548 OPS in 141 games and was the league’s least productive hitter (40.3 wRC+ per Statcast). That’s why he was so calm during his month-long streak.메이저사이트
Park said, “I’m excited about the Golden Glove, but I think it’s still premature. I’m human, so if I maintain this performance, I might not get it, but I’ll never let that expectation show. I’m not going to do anything for my personal performance, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and focus on helping the team win.”