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(LEAD) Choi Ji-man futile at plate as Rays get eliminated in ALDS

All News 15:20 October 12, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS details, photo)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- Tampa Bay Rays' South Korean first baseman Choi Ji-man had two futile trips to the plate off the bench as his 100-win club was sent packing from the postseason.

The Rays lost to the Boston Red Sox 6-5 in Game 4 of the American League Division Series (ALDS) at Fenway Park in Boston on Monday (local time) and dropped the best-of-five series 3-1. The Red Sox got a split on the road to open the series and then won two straight games at home to close out the Rays.

It's a crushing conclusion to a promising season for the Rays, which had the best regular season record in the AL at 100-62 and harbored hopes of returning to the World Series after finishing runners-up to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.

In this EPA photo, Choi Ji-man of the Tampa Bay Rays strikes out against Josh Taylor of the Boston Red Sox during the top of the seventh inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park in Boston on Oct. 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

Choi was benched at the start for the third time in four games in the series, with left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez starting for the Red Sox.

Choi came off the bench in the top of the seventh to pinch hit for Jordan Luplow against right-handed reliever Tanner Houck, with the Rays down 5-3. The Red Sox countered by replacing Houck with left-hander Josh Taylor, who struck out Choi on three pitches.

Choi stayed in the game to play first base. Choi led off the ninth, after the Rays had pulled into a tie with a two-spot in the eighth. Facing new pitcher Garrett Whitlock, Choi grounded out to first.

The Red Sox won the game and the series thanks to Kike Hernandez's sacrifice fly with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

In this Associated Press photo, Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Choi Ji-man (L) has a throw from third baseman Yandy Diaz go off his chest as Travis Shaw of the Boston Red Sox reaches on an infield single during the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park in Boston on Oct. 11, 2021. (Yonhap)

Choi was at the wrong end of a crucial play that set up the game-winning sac fly. With one out and a runner at second, third baseman Yandy Diaz fielded a soft grounder by Travis Shaw but bounced a throw to Choi at first base. The play was ruled an infield single as the ball struck Choi in the chest and dropped in front of him.

Had Choi caught the ball, it would have been two outs with a runner at third, and Hernandez's fly out would have been the final out of the inning and sent the game to extra innings.

In three games this series, Choi batted 2-for-7 with a home run, which came during a Game 2 loss Friday.

With that home run, Choi has now gone deep for a third consecutive postseason. In 2020, Choi homered twice during the Rays' run to the World Series. He became the first South Korean position player to appear in the World Series, though he only batted 1-for-9 with three walks and four strikeouts in six games.

This year, Choi was the last remaining South Korean player in the postseason, after the St. Louis Cardinals and their reliever Kim Kwang-hyun fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Wild Card Game last week.

Choi became a cult hero during last postseason with some timely hits and impressive splits at first base. But he wasn't able to build on that momentum this year, as he was hobbled by multiple injuries.

He missed time at the start of the season following knee surgery, and later hit the injured list (IL) twice with groin and hamstring problems.

Choi only played in 83 games in the regular season, in which he batted .229/.348/.411 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs.

The deep and efficient Rays are famous for having multiple players platoon at several positions. Choi, who bats left-handed and has long struggled against left-handed pitchers, has been no exception. Against Rodriguez and Game 2 starter Chris Sale, both southpaws, Choi was benched in favor of Luplow.


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