By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, June 6 (Yonhap) -- Samsung Lions closer Oh Seung-hwan picked up his 500th professional save Tuesday, the latest milestone for the greatest fireman in South Korean baseball history.
Oh pitched a scoreless ninth inning to preserve a 9-6 victory over the NC Dinos in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season game at Daegu Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, some 235 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
It was Oh's 500th save in a career spanning three leagues: KBO, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, and Major League Baseball (MLB). He had been sitting at 499 since Saturday and reached the 500 mark in his first crack.
"I knew I could get to the 500th save tonight, and I didn't want to ruin the game for the team," Oh said. "My teammates spotted me a three-run cushion, so I felt pretty comfortable out there."
Oh now has 378 saves in the KBO, all of them with the Lions: from 2005 to 2013 and again from 2020 to present day. The 40-year-old is the KBO's all-time leader in saves.
The right-hander recorded 80 saves for the Hanshin Tigers in 2014 and 2015. He then pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Colorado Rockies in MLB from 2016 to 2019, collecting 42 saves.
One of those saves came in Toronto while Oh was pitching for the Blue Jays, making him the only South Korean pitcher to have recorded a save in four countries: South Korea, Japan, the United States and Canada.
On Tuesday, the Lions put up a four-spot in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 9-3 lead and it seemed as though Oh wouldn't get his save opportunity. But the Dinos battled back with a pair of runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to make it a 9-6 contest.
To protect the three-run lead, Oh took the mound to begin the ninth inning. He gave up a leadoff single to Son Ah-seop, but then retired the next two batters on a lineout and a strikeout.
Son stole second with Jason Martin at the plate, but Oh got Martin to ground out to first base to finish the game.
"I am glad I got to do this in one try. But since this was not the final game of the season, I don't have any special feelings," Oh said in his typically understated fashion. "You can't collect saves alone. I want to thank my teammates for congratulating me on this."
The 500th career save came 18 years, two months and three days after Oh's first save: against the Lotte Giants on April 3, 2005.
Oh has led the KBO in saves six times. He holds the record for most saves in a season with 47 -- a mark set in 2006 and matched in 2011.
Oh reclaimed his closer role in mid-May and had limited opponents to three earned runs in the 8 2/3 innings since.
"I didn't pitch well earlier in the season and things didn't go the way I wanted them to. So I got to the 500th save much later than I'd hoped," Oh said. "I even made a start along the way, but now I am back being the closer. I'd like to think I am helping the bullpen at least a little bit here."
When Oh was stripped of the closer job, there were whispers that Oh might retire midseason. Oh said he was aware of such speculation but he didn't let it bother him.
"I didn't care about such rumors because I knew I wasn't going to give up on my career," he said. "I knew I could absolutely be the closer again if I overcame those tough moments."
Oh said he would now like to reach KBO save No. 400, and he needs 22 saves to get there.
"The most important thing for me is to protect wins for my team," Oh said. "If I keep grinding out for saves without blowing opportunities, then the team record will naturally follow."
As for still going strong with his 41st birthday about a month away, Oh said, "I am not thinking about my age. When I am on the mound, I put myself on equal terms with guys that are 20 years younger."
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