By Yoon Chul
Ryu Hyun-jin of the Hanwha Eagles, currently one of the most dominant pitchers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) league, wrote a new chapter in the league's history Tuesday by claiming the most strikeouts in nine regular innings.
The lefty ace pitched a complete game, striking out 17 LG Twins batters in a 124-pitch stint, as the Eagles won 3-1 at Cheongju Stadium in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province.
Before Ryu, Choi Dong-won of the Lotte Giants and Sun Dong-ryul and Lee Dae-jin of the Haitai Tigers, currently the Kia Tigers, shared the nine-inning record with 16 strikeouts, all of them set before 2000.
Sun, manager of the Samsung Lions, has a record of 18 strikeouts including an extra inning as a legendary hurler for the Haitai Tigers, as the club beat the Binggrae Eagles ― the predecessors of the Hanwha Eagles ― in 1991 in 13 innings.
Ryu, 23, said after the game that he tried to put more power in his pitches at a batter-friendly Cheongju ballpark.
Throughout the game, he was tricky, combining fastballs of up to 151 kilometers per hour to the outside with his trademark sharp off-speed pitches to make the best of the widened strike zone, leaving Twins batters helpless.
``My condition was good, so I could control the location of my pitches much better than usual,'' Ryu said.
The sole run by the Twins came from Lee Byung-kyu's solo home run, as Ryu allowed only five hits in the game.
His stellar performance earned praise from a visiting Big League official. John Cox, Pacific Rim scouting coordinator of the San Francisco Giants, reportedly compared Ryu's changeups to those of Giants superstar Tim Lincecum after the game.
Pitching for a struggling Eagles team, which sold two pivotal batters, Kim Tae-kyun and Lee Beom-ho, to Japan before the season, Ryu said he only has moderate goals this season.
``My goal is keeping my ERA below 3.0 and grabbing double-digit wins,'' he said.
Currently, Ryu's ERA ranks second in the league with 2.18, trailing only Ken Kadokura of the SK Wyverns with 2.02. He is now 5-2, tied in third in wins, two shy of the leader Kadokura.
Ryu now leads in strikeouts with 61, 11 ahead of Kadokura.
A years-old controversy of ``exploitation,'' however, is likely to haunt the young ace again. This season so far, only he and Keum Min-chul of the Nexen Heroes have surpassed 900 pitches, with Keum appearing in nine games, one more than Ryu.
He threw 189 1/3 innings last season, after pitching over 200 innings in his first two seasons from 2006 to 2007.