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(Premier12) MVP-winning slugger comes through in clutch

All Headlines 23:03 November 07, 2019

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korean slugger Kim Jae-hwan continued his late-year resurgence on Thursday as he knocked in two key runs for the national team's 3-1 win over Canada at the Premier12 tournament.

It was South Korea's second straight win at the competition, which is also an Olympic qualifying event for Asia/Oceania and America regions. South Korea now sits atop Group C, in prime position to qualify for the Super Round, which starts next week in Japan.

In order to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, South Korea must first reach the Super Round and also rank above Australia and Chinese Taipei in the final standings.

Kim Jae-hwan of South Korea runs to first base after hitting a two-run single against Canada in the top of the sixth inning of the teams' Group C game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 7, 2019. (Yonhap)

And Kim's bat helped put South Korea a step closer to the spot.

The score was tied at 0-0 in the top of the sixth inning at Gocheok Sky Dome, with both starters, Kim Kwang-hyun for South Korea and Robert Zastryzny for Canada, looking sharp.

South Korea finally put some pressure on the Canadian lefty in that inning, with a single and a walk. Zastryzny was relieved by Chris Leroux after that walk.

The right-hander got a pop out against the dangerous Lee Jung-hoo but walked cleanup Park Byung-ho to load the bases.

In came Kim Jae-hwan, who'd lined into a double play in his previous at-bat in the fourth. This time, his hard-hit ball dropped into the right field for a two-run single. Kim looked at a couple of borderline pitches from Leroux for ball and then jumped on a belt-high fastball.

The 2018 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season MVP for the Doosan Bears had a down year in 2019. He went from launching 44 home runs and driving in 133 runs to hitting just 15 homers with 91 RBIs.

His swoon continued into the postseason, as Kim batted only 4-for-20 with one RBI and no extra-base hits in four games in the Korean Series.

But Kim has become a different hitter in November in the national team uniform. He hit a massive home run against Puerto Rico in a tuneup game last Friday. After a hitless day against Australia on Wednesday, Kim came through with the big hit on Thursday.

"I was just thankful that my teammates created that chance for me," Kim said. "I got a mistake to hit, and I am happy to have helped the team win such an important game."

Kim's key hit on Thursday was a particularly welcome sight, with cleanup Park Byung-ho still trying to find his stroke. Park was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Thursday, and he's now 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in two games at the Premier12.

Kim said there's still plenty of baseball left for Park and other struggling teammates to bounce back.

"It'd be great if my hit tonight can bring a jolt of energy to our lineup" Kim added. "I hope I can spread some positive vibes for the whole team."

Kim Jae-hwan of South Korea celebrates his two-run single against Canada in the top of the sixth inning of the teams' Group C game at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Nov. 7, 2019. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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