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“I really want to participate (in postseason games). “If I could throw the ball, I would try to throw it with more confidence.”
During an interview with MK Sports last September, Lee Jun-ho's eyes sparkled, showing confidence and determination to participate in the postseason. And he kept his promise about two months later.
Lee Jun-ho went on the mound in the 4th game of the 2023 KBO postseason playoffs (best of 5 games) against KT Wiz held at Changwon NC Park on the 3rd in the top of the 4th inning, with NC trailing by a score of 0-8, with no runners on base.
NC was leading the series with 2 wins and 1 loss before Game 4, but played a difficult game on this day. The batting line, exhausted from repeated blood clots, was silent, and starting pitchers Song Myeong-ki (1.1 innings, 4 runs) and Lee Jae-hak (2.1 innings, 4 runs) faltered significantly. In this situation, with Game 5 remaining, Manager Kang In-kwon chose Lee Jun-ho as the pitcher who would take care of the long innings.
Lee Jun-ho, who was nominated by NC in the 6th round in 2023 with the 54th overall pick, is a right-handed pitcher whose strengths include accurate ball control and the ability to manage a stable game. After the opening, he continued to receive selection classes in the Futures (2nd team) league, and played an active role as a substitute starter and chaser whenever there was a gap in the 1st team pitching staff. His first-team performance this year was 3 wins, 2 losses, and an average ERA of 4.83 in 17 appearances (31.2 innings).
In particular, Lee Jun-ho had an unforgettable experience during the Futures League away game against the Samsung Lions on September 9th. He achieved his 68th shutout in Futures League history (since 2010) with 2 hits, no walks, 5 strikeouts, and no runs in 9 innings. This was also the second record in NC Futures team history after Lee Jae-hak against Samsung in Masan on August 25, 2012.
Immediately after being called up to the first team, he met with a reporter and said, “I came here as a starter (in the Futures League), but my current role is to lead many innings. “I want to take charge of long innings and play a role in giving strength to pitchers and hitters,” he said. “I really want to participate (in postseason games).” Lee Jun-ho emphasized, “If I can throw the ball, I will throw it with more confidence.” As he promised, he did not tremble even on the big stage of the playoffs. He led the looking strikeout with a 146km fastball against the first batter, Moon Sang-cheol, after a 6-pitch fight.
Even in the top of the 5th inning, Lee Jun-ho showed stability. He put lead hitter Oh Yoon-seok to sleep with a strikeout and a missed swing. Oh Yoon-seok also persevered, committing three fouls, but missed Lee Jun-ho's 144km fastball with his bat.
Afterwards, Lee Jun-ho completed his mission that day by striking out Bae Jeong-dae with three pitches and striking out Yong-ho Cho on a missed swing. The final score was 1.1 innings with 4 strikeouts and no runs. In the game, NC ended up losing 2-11, and Lee Jun-ho's fightback brought great comfort to NC fans.
After the game, NC coach Kang In-kwon also said to Lee Yong-jun (3 innings, 3 runs), who took the mound after Lee Jun-ho, “To prepare for the 5th game, we have brought in young players and players who should be given a chance. “Both players showed good pitching in difficult situations and big games,” he said, without sparing applause.
Lee Jun-ho's long-term dream is to become a stable starting pitcher. Last September, he said, “My strength is aggressive pitching. He had the ability to dispatch hitters with ease. He is my dream to be a starting pitcher who throws long innings. “Someday, I want to maintain a spot in the NC starting lineup,” he said. Considering the performance he showed that day, it is expected that it will not take long for Lee Jun-ho to achieve his goal.
Meanwhile, NC, which scored two wins in the playoffs but lost two games in a row and is in a dispirited mood, is aiming for a ticket to the Korean Series in Game 5 to be held at KT Wiz Park in Suwon on the 5th.
While left-hander Wes Benjamin (regular league record, 15 wins, 6 losses, ERA 3.54) appears as KT's starting pitcher, NC uses a right-hander instead of super ace Eric Peddy (20 wins, 6 losses, 209 strikeouts, ERA 2.00), who is not in 100% condition. Put Shin Min-hyuk on the mound. Shin Min-hyuk only had 5 wins, 5 losses, and an ERA of 3.98 in the regular league, but showed further improved skills with 1 win and an ERA of 0.00 (12 scoreless innings) in 2 postseason games.
Saturday, November 4, 2023