In this Getty Images photo, Kim Kwang-hyun of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the first inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at Oracle Park in San Francisco on Monday. (Getty Images)
As he finished a gratifying day of work on the mound, St. Louis Cardinals' starter Kim Kwang-hyun flashed his signature smile.
The South Korean left-hander is an expressive one on the field, with his aw-shucks grins often accompanying his performances. Against the major league-leading San Francisco Giants on the road on Monday (local time), Kim had plenty to smile about.
He twirled seven shutout innings, giving up only three singles on just 89 pitches in a 5-3 victory at Oracle Park in San Francisco. Thanks to his first scoreless start of 2021, Kim improved to 3-5 with a 3.39 ERA.
Kim's best start of 2021 came against the best team in the bigs. The Giants, despite the loss, still own the best record in baseball at 53-31.
Kim has now won consecutive starts for the first time in his major league career, which began in 2020.
"I pitched well last year, and I had confidence coming into this year," said Kim, who was a perfect 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA last year. "But I hurt my back during spring training, and I'd been struggling after I came back. This hasn't been an easy season."
Kim went 10 starts between his first win and second win of the year. And the third victory came only five days after his previous W, helping Kim regain belief in himself.
"From this point and on, I'll try to pitch with confidence again and be the best version of myself," Kim said. "I am not going to rush anything, and I'll try to enjoy the rest of the season."
The Cardinals were leading 2-0 when Kim was pulled for pinch hitter Tyler O'Neill with one out in the top eighth. The Cardinals got those runs across in the top seventh after being held hitless by San Francisco starter Kevin Gausman though 6 1/3 frames.
"I was especially happy that we scored in the top seventh," Kim said of the smile he had when leaving the mound in the bottom seventh.
Kim had a scary moment in the bottom fourth, when he appeared to have tweaked his back after his spike got caught in the ground on delivery. Manager Mike Shildt, pitching coach Mike Maddux and a team trainer all visited Kim on the mound. The lefty threw a couple of warmup pitches and stayed in the game.
"I've had something like this happen once or twice in bullpen sessions, but never in an actual game," Kim said. "I almost fell off the mound. I wasn't injured, but I was just surprised. I needed to get my composure back."
And he did just that for three more innings for the confidence-building victory. (Yonhap)