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American starter enjoys 'competitive relationship' with S. Korean hitter

All Headlines 16:54 October 07, 2019

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 7 (Yonhap) -- When Park Yong-taik broke his no-hitter bid on Sunday, all Jake Brigham could do was smile in disbelief, seeing how his nemesis got the better of him yet again.

Brigham, an American starter for the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), had not given up a hit against Park's LG Twins through six innings in Game 1 of the teams' first round playoff series on Sunday. Then Park, the South Korean veteran a lifetime batting average of .375 (12-for-32) against Brigham, came off the bench to start the seventh to take care of business. Park delivered a pinch-hit single on the very first pitch.

Jake Brigham of the Kiwoom Heroes throws a pitch against the LG Twins in Game 1 of the teams' first round Korea Baseball Organization playoff series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Oct. 6, 2019. (Yonhap)

The sharp grounder rolled under the arms of the diving first baseman Park Byung-ho. Brigham, who ran toward first to cover the bag, broke into a grin. Park, barely able to keep the smile off his face, kept his head down and trotted back to the dugout for a pinch runner.

It was Park's first hit against Brigham in 2019. He'd been 0-for-5 against Brigham during the regular season, after going 12-for-27 in the two previous years. Brigham has been pitching in the KBO since 2017.

Recalling that moment on Monday, Brigham laughed at the memory of the sequence.

"I've talked to him over the last couple of years. I've told him, 'Could you please get out?'" Brigham told Yonhap News Agency at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. "Even when he hits it bad, it seems to be a hit over the last couple of years. We have a pretty good, competitive relationship."

The seventh inning was an adventurous one for Brigham. He picked off Park's pinch runner, Shin Min-jae, at first base, but then issued a walk to Lee Hyung-jong and a base hit to Chae Eun-seong. The Twins had two men on for the first time all game.

"The walk, it was a competitive at-bat," Brigham said of his battle with Lee. "I yanked the fastball. I was pretty disappointed in that. It just wasn't a competitive 3-2 pitch. I made a lot of really good pitches and he fouled them off and worked the walk really well."

As for the base hit by Chae, Brigham said he got exactly what he was looking for in that situation -- a ground ball. It just happened to find a hole up the middle for a hit.

"I got him to ground out a lot over the last three years on my sinker but it found the hole," Brigham said. "Nothing I can do about those two hits. I am going to continue to throw sinkers and get ground balls, and sometimes, they're going to find holes."

Jake Brigham of the Kiwoom Heroes throws a pitch against the LG Twins in Game 1 of the teams' first round Korea Baseball Organization playoff series at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Oct. 6, 2019. (Yonhap)

Chae was the last batter Brigham faced on Monday. Though he'd only thrown 83 pitches at that point, the Heroes went to their closer, Cho Sang-woo, to face Carlos Peguero, and Cho struck him out to end the rally.

"We had a pretty good plan going into the game. I was going to go as deep as possible," Brigham said. "Peguero is a guy that could hurt us with one swing. The manager (Jang Jung-suk) made the right call. Could I have gotten him out? I'd like to think I could. But (the skipper) made the right call."

Brigham said he noticed he was working on a no-hitter "probably around the fifth inning." It wasn't that he was looking at the scoreboard. He just noticed that he hadn't thrown out of the stretch since the second inning. After walking the first batter of the second inning, Brigham hadn't allowed any base runner until Park Yong-taik's single in the seventh.

"I really didn't think anything of it," he said. "During the season, I would have probably thought a little bit more of it But I was just concentrating on getting guys out and going as deep as possible."

When a pitcher is working on a no-hitter or a perfect game, teammates are supposed to keep their distance from that pitcher in the dugout and not talk to him between innings, or so go the unwritten rules of the game.

Brigham said things are a bit different in the KBO and he wouldn't have wanted the silent treatment anyway.

"I like to talk more when I am pitching. I like to engage in conversations," he said. "A lot of guys are quiet when they're pitching. If they would have done that (not talking to him), that would have bothered me more."

Jake Brigham of the Kiwoom Heroes (L) leaves the mound during the top of the seventh inning of Game 1 of the teams' first round Korea Baseball Organization playoff series against the LG Twins at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Oct. 6, 2019. (Yonhap)

The Heroes took the game 1-0 on Park Byung-ho's walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Brigham was one of the first to sprint out of the dugout in the wild celebration that ensued, and he said he was "so invested" in the game at that stage as the starting pitcher.

Given how closely the first game was contested, this best-of-five series has the makings of going the distance. Brigham would be lined up to start Game 5 on Saturday if it came to that.

Facing the same lineup twice in a week's span could provide a new wrinkle to Brigham's preparations, and the pitcher said he's ready for the challenge.

"Being able to consistently change approaches is one of the general struggles in the KBO just because there are only 10 teams," he said. "I'll go back and watch the video of the way I pitched them the whole season and I'll pull (things) from that. The postseason is a different game but you have to stick with the averages of the whole season and I have to stick with what's good for me and what works for me."


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