“It feels better than any home run I’ve hit this season. The primary goal is to go to fall ball.”
So said ‘Captain’ Son Ah-seop, who saved the NC Dinos from defeat with a dramatic tying two-run shot.
Son batted first and started in right field for the NC Dinos in their home game against the Hanwha Eagles of the 2023 KBO Baseball League at Changwon NC Park on Sunday.
메이저놀이터 Son saved NC with a dramatic tying two-run shot against Hanwha in Changwon on Sunday. Photo (Changwon)=Reporter Lee Han-joo
After a grounder to second base in the first inning, Son made his presence felt in the second inning. With one out, he took advantage of a 148-kilometer fastball from opposing starter Kim Seo-hyun for a single to right field.
After taking a breather in the fourth and fifth innings with an infield fly and a straight hit to shortstop, respectively, Son came out swinging again in the seventh inning. With runners on first and second, he lined a five-pitch, 140-kilometer fastball from Hanwha right-hander Jae-min Kang to left-center field for a two-run double.
But Son’s biggest moment came in the bottom of the ninth inning when NC trailed 7-9. With the bases loaded and one out, he took a three-pitch, 134-kilometer fastball from left-handed reliever Jung Woo-ram and smashed it over the left field fence for a game-tying two-run shot. It was Son’s fifth home run of the season, and the one that saved NC from the brink of defeat.
He ended up with six hits, three doubles, one home run, five RBIs and one run scored. With Son’s performance and Kim Soo-yoon’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th inning, NC was able to defeat Hanwha 10-9. With the win, NC ended its three-game losing streak and remained in sole possession of fourth place with 51 wins, two draws and 47 losses.
After the game, Son said, “It feels better than any other home run I’ve hit this season. We’ve been on a losing streak, and we’ve had a lot of extra innings since last week. It was really hard for the whole team because we kept losing one-run games. “It was a really important game today, a tough game, and it feels really good to get the win,” he said, adding, “It’s been a long time since I’ve hit a long ball.
“I was trying to hit a long ball for the first time in a long time, and in that situation, I had a runner on first base and I was hoping for a strike,” he said. “The first and second pitches were perfect, and then the third pitch was a strike. I felt that the heavens hadn’t abandoned me,” he added.
As Son said, the NC was in crisis after losing three straight games (including a draw) against the KT Wiz in Suwon on April 12. The team was in the midst of a standings battle, and a prolonged losing streak could have ended their dream of advancing to the fall baseball season. At such a crucial moment, the captain activated the home run gun and saved the team. NC will play a three-game weekend series against the seventh-ranked Doosan Bears (49 wins, 1 tie, 50 losses) at Jamsil Baseball Stadium from the 18th.
“There are times in the season when the heavens don’t help you. There are times when things go wrong individually and as a team. It can go in a different direction than you thought. “If we had lost until today, we would have traveled to Seoul in a really heavy mood, but we won a really tough game, so I want to say thank you to the whole team for their hard work and dedication,” he said.
When the NC faltered, Son also faltered. He went 0-for-4 against Hanwha in Changwon on the 15th, and was 0-for-3 against Hanwha on the 16th at the same venue.
He said, “I was under a lot of stress. I was physically exhausted from last week. I’m sure it was hard for all the players, but it was hard for me. I wanted to do well in games like the 15th and 16th, but my body just wasn’t cooperating. “I thought I was good at managing my physical fitness, but it’s actually hard. I want to manage my physical fitness a little better and contribute a lot to the team,” he emphasized.
Knowing this, NC head coach Ahn Kang-hyun gave the entire squad an unusual “complete rest” before the match against Hanwha on the 17th, which proved to be a godsend.
“It definitely helped,” said Son. Personally, I often play matches without practicing. I think there are definitely some parts of my body that are lighter when I play without practicing,” he said, adding, “In the future, I will continue to play personally without training often.”
NC’s Son As-seop celebrates after hitting a two-run shot to tie the game in the ninth inning against Changwon Hanwha on July 17. Photo courtesy of NC
The KBO is currently in the midst of a heated standings battle, and every game is a bloodbath. For NC, which is looking to make its first postseason appearance in three years since 2020 (when it won the title), every game is important.
“Every game against every team is important right now,” said Son. It’s not just Doosan (who they face on the 18th), but there’s not much of a gap between second and ninth place.” “For us, every single game, every single game is important. From now on, it’s a real war.”
NC’s home stadium, Changwon NC Park, which opened in March 2019, has yet to host a postseason game. The team played fall baseball in 2019 and 2020, but in 2019, when they finished fifth, they lost to the LG Twins in a one-game wild-card game on the road. In 2020, when the team finished first in the regular season and won the overall title, the entire Korean Series was played at the Gocheok SkyDome due to COVID-19.
Son said, “We don’t have a goal in terms of rankings. “I want to start playing fall baseball at Changwon NC Park if I can, but that’s something we can’t decide. Anyway, the most important thing is to get to fall baseball. Only by going up to fall baseball do we have a chance to reach this final goal. In the first place, we want to go to fall baseball,” he said.