The Tampa Bay Rays and their South Korean first baseman Choi Ji-man are World Series bound.
Choi went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored a late insurance run, helping the Rays beat the Houston Astros 4-2 in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) at Petco Park in San Diego on Saturday (local time).
Choi is now poised to become the first South Korean batter to play in the World Series. Three South Koreans who have been there before Choi have all been pitchers: Kim Byung-hyun (2001 Arizona Diamondbacks), Park Chan-ho (2009 Philadelphia Phillies) and Ryu Hyun-jin (2018 Los Angeles Dodgers).
The Rays had won the first three games of the ALCS, but the Astros stormed back by winning the next three. Houston was trying to become only the second team in major league history to erase a 3-0 series deficit to win a best-of-seven postseason round, but the Rays had other ideas.
After being benched in Game 6 against lefty starter Framber Valdez, Choi was back in the starting lineup in this game, batting fifth against right-hander Lance McCullers Jr.
The Rays jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, thanks to Randy Arozarena's two-run home run. And with two outs and nobody on in the same inning, Choi drew a seven-pitch walk to keep the inning alive. He was stranded at first as Willy Adames struck out.
The Rays went up 3-0 after Mike Zunino's solo blast in the bottom second. And Choi, with a runner on first and two outs in the third inning, flied out to deep left field.
Choi led off the bottom sixth with a hard single up the middle against new pitcher Jose Urquidy. Choi moved to second after Adames drew a walk, and tagged up to take third base on Joey Wendle's flyout to right field. Then on a sacrifice fly to center field by Zunino, Choi scored the insurance run to put the Rays up 4-0.
That fourth run loomed large, as the Astros cut the deficit in half in the top of the eighth.
Choi came up again with one out in the bottom eighth, up against left-handed reliever Blake Taylor, and sliced a single to shallow left field for his second hit of the game. After Adames drew a walk to move Choi to second base, the South Korean was lifted for pinch runner Mike Brosseau.
The Rays failed to cash in, but their bullpen held firm in the top ninth to preserve the two-run victory.
In five ALCS games, Choi batted 5-for-13 with a home run, an RBI, three runs scored and four walks. (Yonhap)