Ryu·Choo Cap Banner Year

September 30, 2013
Los Angeles Dodgers’s Ryu Hyun-jin pitches in his last regular-season start against the Colorado Rockies in Los Angeles Sunday. / AP-Yonhap

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Ryu Hyun-jin pitches in his last regular-season start against the Colorado Rockies in Los Angeles Sunday. (AP/Yonhap)

By Kim Young-jin

Ryu and Choo. They’re both universally loved in Korea and they’ve both put up solid numbers. Heck, their names roll off the tongue in a near-rhyme when spoken together.

Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Choo Shin-soo of the Cincinnati Reds have something else in common: They’re both capping impressive seasons with dreams to make a run at a World Series ring.

After a strong second half, the Dodgers will be among the Series favorites when they begin the National League (NL) Division Series on Thursday in Atlanta. The Reds have to scratch their way into the tournament by winning the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday in Pittsburg.

Both players – teammates on the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal team – have their challenges cut out. And both are seen as critical if their team plans to play deep into October.

In his rookie season, Ryu, the former Hanwha Eagles southpaw, has shown a calm demeanor and a knack for escaping jams. The postseason will be a litmus test to see whether he is a top-shelf pitcher in the clutch.

Cincinnati Reds’ Choo Shin-soo stepped up big in a contract year, solidifying his status as one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. / AFP-Yonhap

The Cincinnati Reds’ Choo Shin-soo stepped up big in a contract year, solidifying his status as one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. (AFP/Yonhap)

The high-spending, fun-loving Dodgers are a popular pick this offseason on the back of their starting rotation anchored by NL Cy Young frontrunner Clayton Kershaw and his ridiculous 1.83 earned run average (ERA). Behind Kershaw is Zach Greinke, who rode a seven-game winning streak to a 15-4 record and 2.63 ERA. With such a 1-2 punch, the boys in blue are a contender to win any series.

As part of a rookie hazing stunt, Ryu dressed up last week as the Marshmallow Man from the 1984 comedy “Ghostbusters.” While the doughy look was a perfect fit for his fun locker room demeanor, he’ll be looking to do his best Iron Man impression to quell lingering doubts over his stamina. He is expected to start Game 3 on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

While Ryu’s loss in an abbreviated start this past Sunday did not inspire confidence – he was pulled after yielding two earned runs in four innings – his numbers over his rookie season suggest that he could play a critical role.

After raising eyebrows by showing up to camp looking overweight, Ryu has been solid all season, finishing 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 192 innings with 154 strikeouts.

He finished second among NL rookies in wins and ERA and first in innings pitched. Along with fellow rookie sensation Yasiel Puig, he provided an emotional lift to a sagging team.

Moreover, Ryu has done this with a swagger, demonstrating that he can thrive under pressure.

His highest profile start came in late July during a highly anticipated matchup against the Reds that pitted Korean against Korean. Ryu was clearly up for the spotlight, holding Cincinnati to two hits in seven innings in front of a capacity crowd.

But the pride of Incheon will have to overcome signs of fatigue during the second half.

The Dodgers have sought to keep him spry by giving him extra days of rest and Ryu missed a start with a minor back injury.

He has shown that he pitches better rested: he is 5-3 with a 3.20 ERA on four days of rest and 7-1 with a 2.12 ERA on five days.

Choo’s Reds will determine their fate Tuesday night. Regardless of the outcome, however, the outlook is sunny for the outfielder, who is in the midst of a revelatory season at the leadoff spot.

Despite being snubbed for the All-star game, Choo has put up All-star numbers. These include 21 home runs, 102 runs scored, 20 stolen bases and a .285 batting average. His gaudy .423 on base percentage is second in the NL only to teammate Joey Votto.

Cincinnati faithful will be hoping the Busan Express ignites the bats of the Reds, who closed out the season by dropping five straight during which they scored a total of eight runs.

Choo’s season has paved the way for an interesting offseason as super agent Scott Boras will look to cash in. Reds GM Walt Jocketty vows to retain Choo, but with the outfielders versatility, teams looking to make a splash in free agency are certain to pick up the phone. Teams such as the Mets and Cubs have been floated as potential bidders.

Before the hot stove fires up however, fans in Korea are hoping for a particular playoff outcome. In order for a Choo-Ryu playoff showdown to materialize, the Reds must beat the Pirates and win a division series matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals; and the Dodgers must beat the Braves.

It is something of a long shot, but considering the year these two are having, stranger things have happened.

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