By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- Ryu Hyun-jin has been the bona fide ace for the Toronto Blue Jays all season, consistently delivering strong starts. And now, they're going to need another one from him to stay alive in the postseason.
Ryu will start Game 2 of the American League wild-card series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday (local time). The Blue Jays dropped the opener of the best-of-three series by 3-1 on Tuesday, and Ryu is now tasked with helping extend the series to Game 3 on Thursday.
The South Korean left-hander will be matched up against right-hander Tyler Glasnow.
Ryu went 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA, fourth-best in the AL, during the regular season, his first with the Blue Jays. Though he could have started Game 1 on regular, four days' rest, the Blue Jays opted to give the 33-year-old extra rest.
During the regular season, Ryu had a 2-0 record and a 2.74 ERA in four starts on four days' rest, compared with a 3-2 record and a 2.29 ERA in seven starts after five days' rest.
"I feel great. I am definitely ready to pitch tomorrow," Ryu said in a Zoom session with the media before Tuesday's Game 1. "I may have done a bit better with extra rest, but I don't think there has been that much of a difference."
The Blue Jays' decision to go with right-hander Matt Shoemaker instead of Ryu in Game 1 raised a few eyebrows. Manager Charlie Montoyo defended it as a strategic move that would allow the Blue Jays to win the matchup battle by using their bullpen in Game 1 and then line up Ryu for a game that would be an elimination affair either way.
Ryu said he didn't have much input into the decision and his focus is on the task at hand.
"It's a short series, and I am only thinking about winning the game," Ryu said. "My mindset is to take it one inning at a time."
Ryu faced the Rays twice during the regular season. On Opening Day on July 24, Ryu gave up three earned runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings in a no-decision. One of those hits was a two-run shot by left-handed hitting Yoshi Tsutsugo. Ryu also uncharacteristically walked three batters.
On Aug. 22, Ryu limited the Rays to a run on three hits in five innings. He struck out six and walked none, but he didn't get a decision after leaving the game with the score tied at 1-1.
"It's been a month since we last faced each other," Ryu said of the Rays' lineup. "I think they've changed over that time. I can say the same about myself."
Before the game, Ryu was seen chatting with the Rays' Korean infielder Choi Ji-man. The two graduated from the same Korean high school in Incheon, just west of Seoul, but have not yet faced each other in the majors, with Ryu being one of the best left-handers and Choi, who bats left-handed, struggling against southpaws.
Asked about a potential playoff matchup against Choi, Ryu acknowledged it would be a big deal for fans back home in South Korea, but he will try not to get caught up in any personal feelings.
"He didn't start in the two earlier games that I pitched (against the Rays), and he may not play tomorrow, either," Ryu said. "But if he does play, I think we'll both focus on trying to win the game."
Choi, who had been dealing with a hamstring injury, was activated in time for Game 1 and made a pinch-hit appearance to lead off the eighth inning. He flied out to center against reliever Thomas Hatch.
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