Ryu rises to the occasion in Dodgers' win over Reds
LOS ANGELES – It was no ordinary game.
Hyun-Jin Ryu knew it the moment he walked from the dugout to the mound at Dodger Stadium, looked toward home plate and saw the leadoff batter.
His first meeting against fellow Korean Shin-Soo Choo, the Cincinnati Reds center fielder, was big news, and not just to Korean-Americans in the U.S.
The game was being televised live in Korea. The Dodgers handed out about 90 credentials to Korean media. Ryu and Choo were former teammates on the Korean national team, but this was the first time they faced each other as opponents.
There was surely a bit of personal pride at stake. And there were nerves, too.
"I was definitely more nervous than my usual games," Ryu said Saturday night through a translator. "It was the first time facing Choo, so I can't deny that he wasn't on my mind."
By the end of the night, their meeting was an afterthought. Choo drew a walk, but Ryu performed brilliantly in the Dodgers' 4-1 win.
The young left-hander helped his team to its eighth victory in nine games since the All-Star break, pitching seven innings and allowing just two hits and one run. The Reds didn't get a hit after the third inning, and Ryu combined with relievers Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez and closer Kenley Jansen to retire the final 19 batters.
Ryu's performance was compelling, despite any trepidation he might have felt pitching to Choo, who has been an established major leaguer for nine seasons. But it was impossible to ignore the game's magnitude: a sellout crowd of 52,675 reserved its longest and loudest ovations for the two Koreans.
“I didn't think he would be nervous,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He's obviously one of the best pitchers to come over. He came to major league baseball, and he's pitched well all year. I didn't feel like this would be any different for him. I expected him to be really good. He seems to rise to the occasion all the time.”
Perhaps, but this was different. In Choo's first at-bat, Ryu seemed to overthrow his fastball, walking Choo on five pitches after missing twice on fastballs clocked at 93-plus mph.
"I can't deny that because Choo was the first batter, I tried to get my velocity up as soon as I could,” Ryu said, rather sheepishly.
Ryu retired Choo on a ground ball in the third and struck him out in the sixth. He gave up a home run to Jay Bruce in the second inning, but the Dodgers broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth when Skip Schumaker, starting in left field in place of an ailing Carl Crawford, belted a two-run homer to center that traveled an estimated 409 feet.
Ryu is 9-3 this season, and the Dodgers have won each of his past six starts. He gives them a solid No. 3 starter behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, making him a solid investment for the six-year contract he signed for $36 million.
Including the $26-million posting the Dodgers paid to his Korean team, that's a lot of money for a pitcher who had never thrown in the big leagues.
"I don't think we really knew what to expect, other than seeing some video and our scouts liking him," Mattingly said. "Obviously, they liked him enough to make a pretty good investment in him. They believed in him, but I don't know if we really knew what to expect.
"I would have to say he's been better than expected."
After the game, Ryu said he and Choo have remained friends and that they met for dinner on Thursday night when the series started.
Asked who paid the bill, Ryu smiled.
"The owner of the restaurant actually paid," he said.