Veteran outfielder showcases flair for dramatic once again in Korean Series

INCHEON– At 40 with a receding hairline, SSG Landers veteran outfielder Kim Kang-min thinks he has aged a few years over the past week of playing high-stress, high-leverage championship series games in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

Kim no longer starts in center field for his club, with the 25-year-old Choi Ji-hoon now firmly established in that spot. But with his power and almost unparalleled flair for the dramatic, Kim has been a useful bat to bring off the bench for the Landers during this Korean Series against the Kiwoom Heroes.
With the Landers down 4-2 but runners at the corners with no outs in the bottom ninth of Game 5, Kim stepped in as the pinch hitter against reliever Choi Won-tae. At 0-2 count, Kim smashed a three-run home run for an improbable 5-4 victory. The Landers now lead the Korean Series 3-2 and have a chance to win the title in Game 6 Tuesday, back at Incheon SSG Landers Field, just west of Seoul.

It was the first pinch-hit, walkoff home run in Korean Series history, and only the second such homer in KBO postseason annals.

For Kim, the stress comes from having to figure out when he may enter the game in what situations and having to stay on his toes. During Monday’s game, with the Landers down 4-0 through seven innings, Kim said there were at least four occasions when he thought his name was going to be called.

“My mindset is to stay ready in a tight game in every inning. And once I am in the box, I have to do something within three swings,” Kim said. “I feel like my job in this series is as a game changer, someone who has to step in for crucial situations. It may not look like it on the outside, but I’ve been dying inside the whole series.”

In Game 1 of this series, Kim delivered a game-tying solo shot as pinch hitter in the bottom ninth, though the Landers ultimately lost the game 7-6 in 10 innings.

He became the oldest player to homer in a postseason game then, and he broke his own record Monday.

“Hitting two pinch-hit home runs in one series is not as easy as it looks,” Kim said with a wry smile. “In that situation tonight, if I didn’t hit a home run, I didn’t want to put any more pressure on the guy behind me. I wanted to at least move the runner from first to second. I wasn’t necessarily trying to hit a home run.”

After the game, Landers manager Kim Won-hyong ran into Kim Kang-min in the tunnel and wanted to give him a bear hug. But the player refused and told him, “We should save this for tomorrow.”

Kim Kang-min said he was referring to Game 6 set for Tuesday, with the Landers needing a win to lock down the championship.

“You don’t win the Korean Series by taking three games. You have to win four games,” Kim said. “I hope we can build on this momentum and win tomorrow.”

Kim also wants someone else to step up in clutch situations.

“I honestly hope I don’t have to pinch hit tomorrow,” Kim said, laughing. “The best case scenario for me is to be the cheerleader in the dugout the whole game and then high-five guys after we win the championship.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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