Veteran pitcher proud of setting good example for younger teammates

INCHEON– About this time a year ago, nine teams in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) thought right-hander Noh Kyung-eun had reached the end of the road, after 19 seasons in pro ball.

But the one remaining club, the SSG Landers, saw something in the 38-year-old pitcher that others didn’t, and handed him a one-year deal after a tryout.

And Noh rewarded the Landers with a renaissance season in 2022. While splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, Noh matched his career high with 12 wins and had a 3.05 ERA, his lowest in a decade. When the Landers’ pitching staff was decimated by injuries, Noh was there to fill whatever role the team asked him to.
For Noh, this has been all part of trying to be an exemplary leader for younger players. And it has continued in the ongoing Korean Series, where the Landers hold a 3-2 lead over the Kiwoom Heroes entering Tuesday’s Game 6. Noh has a relief win in three appearances, with a 4.50 ERA.

“Managers often say veterans have to step up their game in the postseason, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that,” Noh said Tuesday in a media scrum at Incheon SSG Landers Field, just west of Seoul. “Our manager Kim Won-hyong also values experience of some older guys. And I think our team has set a good example for rebuilding clubs.”

The Landers have struck the difficult balance of veteran savvy and youthful exuberance. Some of the core players from their earlier championship years, dating back to 2007, are still with the club, such as 40-year-old outfielder Kim Kang-min, 35-year-old third baseman Choi Jeong and 34-year-old starter Kim Kwang-hyun. Last year, the leadership group got a major reinforcement in the form of former American League All-Star Choo Shin-soo, who is 40.

And the Landers have also seen the growth of younger players, such 24-year-old infielder Park Seong-han and 25-year-old outfielder Choi Ji-hoon.

“When it comes to older players, it’d be much easier for teams to release them if they don’t perform, and replace them with younger and more productive guys,” Noh said. “But when guys with experience come through in big moments, I think it sends an important message.”

Noh didn’t have to look back too far for one such example. In Game 5 Monday night, Kim Kang-min delivered a three-run walkoff homer off the bench for an improbable 5-4 win for the Landers. Noh himself also played a part, pitching a scoreless ninth inning to keep the Landers in the game. Noh was credited with the win.

“Just think about how much young guys must have learned from Kang-min’s home run last night,” Noh said. “You can’t buy that kind of lesson.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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