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By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- In his South Korean debut on Tuesday, former major league All-Star shortstop Addison Russell got a lot of "firsts" out of the way.
He got his first hit, scored his first run and delivered his first RBI in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), as his Kiwoom Heroes defeated the Doosan Bears 6-2 in Seoul.
Batting third, Russell went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored while also looking solid on the field at shortstop.
"It was a good day. The team won. I just really wanted to come out here and have fun, enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy the fans," Russell said afterward. "All in all, the debut day exceeded my expectation."
Russell, the 2016 National League All-Star for the Chicago Cubs, had his big moment in the top of the ninth at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. Clinging to a 3-2 lead, the Heroes put together one last rally, opening the frame with a walk and a single against reliever Lee Hyeong-beom.
A sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, and Lee intentionally walked Kim Ha-seong to load the bases and set up a potential double play.
Given that Kim had hit a solo home run in the seventh and that Russell had never faced Lee before, perhaps the free pass was a defensible move.
Russell had other ideas, though, as he swung on the first pitch from Lee for a two-run single and a 5-2 lead.
Russell said he "felt pretty confident" going up to the plate in that situation.
"I know myself. I just had to stick to my approach," he said. "Didn't really want to do too much. Just put up a good at-bat and everything else would handle itself."
Asked if he felt offended that a pitcher walked a batter in front of him just to face him, Russell smiled and said, "Not too much."
"It's a different league, and day by day, I am going to have to earn respect in the league," he said. "I do that by just continuing my work ethic and being a team player."
Russell stepped in for the first time in the top of the first against starter Raul Alcantara and flied out to left field.
In his next time up in the fourth, Russell hit a broken-ban ground ball to second. It wasn't until the sixth inning that Russell got his first hit in the KBO, a solid single to right field as part of a game-tying rally.
The ball was tossed back to the Heroes' dugout as Russell's memento.
The Heroes were down 2-0 through five innings but got the first run off an error in the sixth, and then Russell scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly.
Russell was hit by a pitch in the seventh and got to see another at-bat in the ninth. He made the most of that last opportunity.
Both of Russell's two hits came on first pitch. He said being aggressive at the plate has been his approach since his minor league days in the United States.
"First-pitching swinging, being ready for the first pitch and making sure that I don't waste a pitch," Russell explained.
On the field, Russell got the very first out in the bottom of the first, a routine grounder off the bat of Park Kun-woo. He handed another easy groundball in the second.
In the fourth inning, Russell fielded a grounder that went off the mound on its way to the middle of the field, and speedy runner Jung Soo-bin just beat the throw for an infield single.
In the fifth, Russell charged in on a soft roller by Jose Miguel Fernandez and made a running throw that just went off the mark. First baseman Park Byung-ho jumped to his left to make the catch and then applied the tag on Fernandez in one motion.
All in all, it was a solid debut for someone who hadn't played in nine months. His last major league game came in September last year, and he became a free agent after the Cubs didn't tender him a contract following the 2019 season. He only signed with the Heroes in late June. He played a couple of minor league games here before his KBO debut.
"I was really anxious to play. This is the game I grew up playing. I love playing," he said. "I was really excited whenever I heard I was going to have the opportunity to play in the KBO.
As for what he wants to do next for his new KBO fans, Russell said he's all about "consistency."
"Just going out there and giving my best effort and being a team player," he said. "I think the rest of the stuff will play in our favor whenever we pull the rope in the same direction."
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