S. Korean big leaguers express mutual admiration after matching up in 4-game series

April 1, 2024

Once teammates in South Korea, Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres and Lee Jung-hoo of the San Francisco Giants went toe to toe for the first time in their major league careers over the past four days.

They had already been close friends before facing each other at Petco Park in San Diego, and after their teams split the four-game series, their mutual admiration only grew.

Kim hammered a three-run homer in the bottom of the second inning of the series finale Sunday, helping the Padres to a 13-4 victory that ensured the 2-2 series split. Kim had two other hits in this game.

It was Lee who went deep in Saturday’s game for his first Major League Baseball home run, and he drew three walks in Sunday’s loss to continue his strong start to the rookie season.

As National League West division rivals, the Padres and the Giants will meet nine more times this season. The next series will be a three-game set at Oracle Park in San Francisco starting Friday.

Kim, three years Lee’s senior at 28, said he was happy to see the rookie enjoying a productive start to his big league career, especially while playing under the pressure of a six-year, US$113 million contract.

“He’s like my little brother. And I am thankful to have someone like him around me,” Kim said after Sunday’s game. “I hope we can both play well this season. I think Jung-hoo is going to have a better season and so I have to try to keep pace.”

Kim opened his season with a two-game Seoul Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 20-21, but didn’t have a hit in those two games. His home run in the second inning and double in the eighth inning were Kim’s first two extra-base hits of this season.

For the long ball, Kim jumped on a first-pitch changeup from starter Daulton Jefferies to push the Padres’ lead to 9-0.

“I wanted to be aggressive from the first pitch and it was a mistake pitch,” Kim said. “We had runners in scoring position with two outs, and I am glad I was able to drive in runs in that situation.”

As for the three-hit performance that followed a hitless game Saturday, Kim said, “That’s baseball. We have a lot of games left and I won’t get too high or too low after each game.”

Kim said he was already looking forward to facing Lee and the Giants again, adding, “It’s going to be fun again seeing him in San Francisco.”

Lee said he was happy for Kim that his ex-teammate finally hit his first homer of 2024.

“It’s an important season for him, and I hope he will stay healthy,” Lee said of Kim, who will become a free agent after this season. “After our next series in San Francisco, we won’t see each other for a while. I hope we will both play well until then.”

Lee’s mini-hitting streak was snapped at three games after he went 0-for-2 Sunday, but he demonstrated his signature plate discipline and patience in drawing three walks.

All of them came against Padres starter Michael King, who issued seven free passes overall in only four innings.

“He threw many different types of pitches,” said Lee, who saw four-seam fastballs, sweepers, changeups, sliders and sinkers from King. “I was able to figure out his repertoire in the first at-bat, and that’s why I could stay patient.”

The Giants will now hop over to Los Angeles to play the mighty Dodgers for three games starting Monday. The Padres will stay home to host the St. Louis Cardinals.