Ryu Ji-hyeok (29, KIA) almost got himself seriously injured in the game against SSG at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field on April 8. In the second inning, Ryu was on third base when Jong-hoon Park, the opposing starter, threw a wild pitch and Ryu collided with Jong-hoon, who was in the basepaths.
It was a split second, but Jong-hoon ended up sitting on Ryu, and the impact on his left collarbone was severe. That’s why Ryu couldn’t get up for a while after the goal. He had to leave the game and go to the club’s designated hospital to get checked out. Fortunately, it was diagnosed as a bruise, but the shock didn’t go away in a day.
However, Ryu Ji-hyeok was still listed on the lineup card as the starting first baseman against Doosan at Jamsil Stadium on the 9th 스포츠토토. “It’s just a bruise, so it’s okay,” said Kia manager Kim Jong-guk, who breathed a sigh of relief before explaining, “I asked him if he was okay to play today, and he said he was fine, so I put him in the starting lineup.” No one would blame him for taking a day off if he was still in shock. But Ryu chose to play out of a sense of responsibility.
In fact, Ryu had long been labeled as an injury-prone player. It’s hard for him to defend himself because he’s actually had quite a few injuries that have kept him out of the game. But this year is different. I’ve had a few situations where I’ve gotten injured, like the game on the 8th, and I’ve been able to play the next day and feel fine. Even in the next game, when his shin was painfully bruised by a foul ball, or when his collarbone was throbbing, Ryu’s expression remained calm.
With such a responsibility, Ryu has been playing consistently this season, leading the team’s batting lineup with a solid leadoff. The difference between batting with him and without him has a huge impact on the table-setters’ batting average. The second spot in the batting order often changes, but that’s why Ryu has remained a fixture in the top of the order for KIA.
Playing despite a collarbone injury, Ryu had a perfect game against Doosan in Jamsil on the 9th. At times, he was calmly looking at the ball and harassing the opposing pitcher, and at other times, he swung hard at pitches in his zone. On the day, Ryu went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk, reaching base three times to spark the team’s offense.
KIA came to Seoul after losing three straight games to SSG in a midweek three-game series. They were mentally and physically tired. However, in the first inning, Ryu Ji-hyuk, the team’s first batter, changed the mood by hitting a triple to right-center field against Kim Dong-joo, the opposing starter. It gave the team a chance to forget about the three-game losing streak and quickly focus on the new game. It was more than just a triple.
In the fifth inning, with the score tied at 2-2, he lined a hard-hit ball up the middle and sprinted home when Ko Jong-wook lined it into the left-field seats. It was impressive to see him slide head-first despite the collarbone injury he suffered the day before. It was clear that he had forgotten everything and was focused on the game. After the game, Kia head coach Kim Jong-guk praised the team, saying, “Ryu Ji-hyuk, who was the table setter in the batting lineup, created chances and Koh Jong-wook took care of them.”
Ryu added three more runs on the day to further improve his on-base percentage. As of the 9th, Ryu’s on-base percentage for the season is 0.390. This is the best slugging percentage of his career in regulation at-bats. It’s also the eighth-best OPS in the entire league this season. His .307 batting average is also 12th in the league. He’s not a big hitter, but that’s pretty ideal for a leadoff man.
Since KIA acquired the Tigers franchise in 2001, or the 21st century, there have only been two third basemen with a better OPS than Ryu. In 2007, Lee Hyun-gon posted a .393 OPS, and in 2016, Lee Bum-ho carved out a .391 OPS. Ryu’s mark is good for third place, which isn’t too far off from first or second place. At this point, he’s within striking distance of overtaking it with a one- or two-game explosion. If Ryu stays healthy and responsible, the opportunity to overtake him will keep coming.