There are a lot of things that Hyun Soo Kim has brought the Orioles, and the fans, since his signing nearly a full year ago.
For example, had it not been for Kim, I would have never known what bibimbap is, or how happy a man could be eating a bowl of white rice and sauteed vegetables. I naturally live to the accord of the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, so vegetables are foreign to my intake. But I can respect a man who savors good eats. Let’s not forget that Kim has also brought the best play-by-play announcers in the entire baseball universe to the attention of Baltimore and its patrons.
I have no idea what the hell those Korean superstars are saying 60% of the time, every time, but damn it if they aren’t having a good time calling dingers. To Sung Min Kim, Joseph Kim, MBC Sports and Hyun Soo himself, your collective services have brought joy to my life, and for that, I thank you.
As well as his doofy personality, huggable smile and organic coalescing into the Orioles clubhouse, in regards to the actual playing of baseball, Kim has provided his new team the kind of do-it-all bat to aid the abundance of power.
The 28 year-old rookie, now slashing .307/.385/.429 (122 wRC+) after yesterday’s ballgame, has been a kindred source of productive spirit for a ball club whose offense has zombied through most of the second-half. While the Orioles collective power has sputtered, Hyun Soo Kim has not. And somehow, as the the good times have continued to roll for Kim, he showed just how he’s done it when the Orioles needed him the most. When the team needed something, anything, he gave them everything.
Pinch-hitting in the top of the 9th for Nolan Reimold, Kim stepped into the left-handed batter’s box with Michael Bourn on first base with one out. Facing Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, whose 2.79 ERA/3.16 FIP don’t really do him justice, Kim was plunged into what ended up being the most important inning of the Orioles dying season. Down 2-1, plagued yet again by weak contact and flailing misfortunes, the O’s seemed to be holding their breath one last time.
The fireballing Osuna starts Kim with a 96 MPH fastball for strike one, followed by a high floating changeup to even the count. Osuna then succeeded the changeup with another fastball, as Kim fouled it off to his left. Kim watches a fastball miss down and away, while Bourn swipes second. Down 2-2 against one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball, the task to follow would be daunting. But you know, there isn’t another hitter on the Orioles extended roster better suited for the moment.
Osuna tries to deke Kim with a little improvised pause in his delivery, and you can see Kim have to double tap at the plate, forcing him to adjust mid-pitch. Regardless, Kim flashes the bat control he’s made so reputable in his rookie year, despite the attempted disruption in his timing on a 97 MPH fastball. Osuna does miss Russell Martin’s glove by a healthy margin, but after working away for the majority of the at-bat, he moves Kim’s eyes just far enough back over the plate to imbalance him.
Again 2-2, Osuna tries to elevate up and in, and really couldn’t have spotted his fastball any better. Martin sets up just under Kim’s hands again at 97 MPH, a very tough pitch square up, let alone muster a fight. But Kim sees fastball, reacts fastball, and uses his aggressively sound swing and fast hands to foul off a pitch in a location that Osuna has used a time or two to end at-bats. Without panic as he always is, Kim lives to see another dreaded Osuna offering.
After seeing fastballs ranging between 93-97 MPH for six consecutive pitches, Osuna throws the ole equalizer at Kim, who does just enough to nick the changeup away. As ugly a swing as it is, it’s mightily impressive Kim was able to even make any sort of contact. Osuna had cemented the mid-90’s plateau, only to drop a pitch 15 MPH pitch slower than the last.
Osuna bails him out a bit, when the same pitch farther down in the zone probably gets a swing and a miss, but Kim, still wary of Osuna’s secondary stuff, lets the baseball travel far enough to recognize it. He isn’t too quick to transfer his weight forward, and wouldn’t you know it, the hand-eye coordination to put the bat on a changeup with good fade is superb.
Having been in swing mode for four consecutive pitches, Kim balks at Osuna’s vaunted breaking ball that may look like, as Jim Palmer would say, a “non-competitive” pitch. If there is a spot where Kim has weakness however, it has been down and in. It can’t be overstated how difficult it is to go from being on the ultimate defensive to simply watching a pitch go by, especially a curveball that for a split-second appears to be a strike. Osuna probably wanted his curveball to fall deeper into hitting territory, but nevertheless, it’s not a bad idea given the situation.
Working up and in with the fastball, away with the slow stuff, and down and in with the breaking stuff, Osuna had pretty much used exhausted his options. So, why not go back to the fastball? The logic is sound. He’d added with the fastball, subtracted with his secondary arsenal, so why not go back to the heater?
Martin positions himself away, Osuna inexplicably goes in, and Kim goes out.
Kim isn’t trying to hit a home run, and according to Statcast, of the 91 baseballs hit at a similar trajectory and speed, none resulted in home runs. Kim happened to square up the barrel of the bat on a 96 MPH fastball and smoke a 368-foot line drive. All of this made possible because his approach never changed, even in the tensest of situations.
With the Tigers and Mariners in realistic view of harming the Orioles’ slimming Wild Card stance, that fear subsided to entropy. That home run may have hammered the Orioles into an October baseball game with Ernie Johnson behind the mic.
That same ability to fight off tough pitches, take pitcher’s pitches, allowing the baseball to travel when necessary, and all the while, explode through the hitting zone like the best of ‘em, are all traits that Kim has showed since the offset of Spring Training.
That gamble on himself continues to pay off, and just as the Orioles were down to their last chip, Kim doubled down. There are obvious reasons to expect him to slow down at some point, but we’re in late September and the casino hasn’t closed.
Prodigal power is the Orioles game, and maybe its just the ulterior fandom in me that I have to let out, but my gut says the Orioles offense is about to get hot. Though the lineup has been as hard to watch as Michael Scott’s Dundees, it looks like they’ve found the proper spark.
And as poetically just as Oriole Magic could be, the little guy whose provided the steadiest stream of light may be that jolt.