In front of a packed house of 24,000 fans, Samsung Lions closer Oh Seung-hwan, in his 19th year as a professional, finally reached the 400-save plateau.
Seung-hwan Oh pitched the final game of the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League on Thursday at Samsung Lions Park in Daegu, South Korea, against SSG Landers in a 5-3 home victory. He recorded his 30th save of the season with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless, hitless baseball, striking out two.
This marks the fifth time in KBO history that Oh has recorded double-digit saves in three consecutive seasons, joining 2021 (44 saves) and last year (31 saves). He also completed his 400th career save. Oh is the first pitcher in KBO history to reach 400 career saves.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Seung-hwan, as the game itself didn’t go his way. In the top of the eighth inning, with two outs and two runners on base, the Samsung bench, thinking about a “four-out save,” pulled the third pitcher, Lee Jae-ik, from the mound and called for Oh Seung-hwan. SSG then brought up Choo Shin-soo to pinch-hit for Kim Kang-min.
It was Oh Seung-hwan who won the ‘1982-born’ matchup. Facing a 3-1 pitch count, Oh Seung-hwan got Choo Shin-soo to ground out to first base after a foul, ending the inning without a run. Lee Sung-gyu made a diving catch to snag the ball, and the two teams were evenly matched.안전놀이터
The batters also stepped up. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Jose Pirela walked with the bases loaded, but after Kim Hyun-joon singled, Lee Sung-gyu hit an RBI triple to score a run and give Oh Seung-hwan a boost. Samsung fans’ expectations for the 400th save were also raised.
Contrary to expectations, Oh looked shaky in the top of the ninth inning, giving up a walk to leadoff hitter Oh Tae-gon. After Choi Ji-hoon singled, he walked Han Yoo-seom on nine pitches to put the tying run in scoring position.
However, no runs were scored. Oh Seung-hwan got Guillermo Heredia to fly out to right field with runners on first and second and Park Sung-hwan to fly out to left field with runners on second and third to end the SSG rally. As left fielder Koo Ja-rook caught the ball to end the game, Oh Seung-hwan and catcher Kang Min-ho shared a deep hug in celebration. A video commemorating the club’s 400th save was shown on the scoreboard, and fireworks lit up the night sky at Lions Park to celebrate the milestone.
After reaching 100 saves in 2007, his third year in the league, the youngest and shortest season, Oh broke the records for fewest games and fewest saves in 2009 and 2011, reaching 150 and 200 saves in his career, respectively. In the case of 200 saves, it took him 334 games to reach the world record for fewest games played.
From there, Oh continued to accumulate saves, becoming the first KBO pitcher to reach 250, 300, and 350 saves, making him one of the league’s best closers. Furthermore, after a six-year hiatus from the Korean scene in 2014, which included stints in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and Major League Baseball (MLB), he continued to make saves after returning to the KBO. In June, he reached the milestone of 500 career saves in Korea, the United States, and Japan.
Among active players, Hanwha’s Jung Woo-ram (197 saves) and KT’s Kim Jae-yoon (169 saves) are following in his footsteps, but given the wide gap between them, it’s unlikely that anyone will break his record anytime soon.
Consistency is the key. Seung-hwan Oh is the all-time title holder in this category six times and has nine seasons (including this year) with 20 or more saves. This makes his record even more valuable.
Not wanting to give up, Seung-hwan tried various things to make a breakthrough, including taking a leave of absence from his closing duties and making his first professional start in early May.
But to no avail. After more than two months of not being able to play, Oh took out his frustrations on the dugout. He was eventually removed from the first team roster in early May and again in mid-June. It was somewhat unusual for a player to be sent down to the second team twice in the middle of the season for non-injury reasons. The coaching staff and players who had to watch were disappointed, but the player himself was the most frustrated.
Seung-hwan Oh wasn’t about to crumble, though, as he began to stabilize in the second half of the year and quickly picked up the pace in August, going 1-0, 1.25 in 13 games with 10 saves in 12⅔ innings. Since September, including his start against SSG on the 14th, he’s been near perfect, going 13-1 with a 1.63 ERA in 14 1/3 innings pitched and seven saves.
His BABIP is just 0.151 since September, and his walks and strikeouts are 3 and 13 respectively. That’s how reliable his pitches are. It was a return to form for Seung-hwan Oh, who was unflappable even in close games.
Seung-hwan Oh is the oldest pitcher on the team and in the entire league, but his spark hasn’t gone out. Although the team failed to make the postseason, it was a special home finale for Seung-hwan, who has experienced both Daegu Citizens Ballpark and Lions Park.
Meanwhile, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) will present Seung-hwan Oh with a commemorative award for becoming the first individual to record 400 career saves in the KBO.