The Korea Herald


MLB debut a dream-come-true moment for Giants outfielder Lee Jung-hoo

By Yonhap

Published : March 29, 2024 - 10:49

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Lee Jung-hoo of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after hitting a single against the San Diego Padres for his first Major League Baseball hit during a regular-season game at Petco Park in San Diego on Thursday. (Getty Imanges) Lee Jung-hoo of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after hitting a single against the San Diego Padres for his first Major League Baseball hit during a regular-season game at Petco Park in San Diego on Thursday. (Getty Imanges)

After collecting his first major league hit and RBI in his very first game Thursday, San Francisco Giants outfielder Lee Jung-hoo said his dream has become reality.

"I am happy to have played my first game. I've been dreaming of this moment," Lee told Yonhap News Agency in the visiting clubhouse at Petco Park in San Diego, where the Giants lost to the home team Padres 6-4. Lee went 1-for-3 with an RBI from a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh.

"I don't have any regrets," Lee added. "I think I played a pretty good first game."

Lee became the 27th South Korean player to appear in a Major League Baseball game, as he stepped into the box to lead off the game in the top of the first inning against starter Yu Darvish.

Lee struck out in the first and lined out in the third, before hitting a single in the fifth.

Then in the top seventh, Lee hit a sacrifice fly to center off reliever Yuki Matsui to put the Giants up 3-2.

The Padres scored four times in the bottom seventh en route to their two-run victory.

The team's result aside, Lee said he will remember the sacrifice fly the most. Had the Giants held on to a win, Lee's RBI would have been the game-winning run.

"I will remember the sac fly more than the first hit. I was down on two strikes, and I didn't want to strike out looking," Lee said. "I tried to put a swing on any pitch around the strike zone."

Lee enjoyed an All-Star career in the Korea Baseball Organization before taking his talent to San Francisco. The 2022 KBO regular-season MVP was one of the best contact hitters in the South Korean league and had more career walks than strikeouts during his seven-year run.

But Lee struck out in his first MLB regular-season at-bat on three pitches against veteran Darvish.

"I thought he would throw a lot of sliders, but I was caught off guard," said Lee, who was called out on a 0-2 fastball. "He had a different sequence than the one I'd been looking for."

After singling off Darvish, Lee was picked off trying to steal second base.

"He has a certain move that he takes when he goes home with a runner on first," Lee said. "I took off when I saw that move, but he fooled me in that moment."

Lee said he was able to regroup mentally after a quick word of encouragement from the Padres' South Korean shortstop, Kim Ha-seong. The two briefly crossed paths as Kim was returning to the dugout after Lee got picked off.

"He told me, 'Don't worry about that play,' and it really hit me," Kim said. "I was able to put that out of my mind right away."

Lee and Kim were teammates in the KBO with the Kiwoom Heroes from 2017 to 2020 and have remained close friends even after Kim left for San Diego before the 2021 season. The Padres were reportedly in pursuit of Lee when he was posted in the offseason, before the Giants signed him to a six-year, US$113 million contract.

Lee had a solid camp and wasted no time getting his first regular-season hit.

On playing in front of almost 45,000 fans, Lee said: "I've never played in front of so many people in such a great stadium unless I was with the national team. I wasn't nervous before the first at-bat, but I did have some strange feelings."

On their in-game exchange, Kim said he wanted to help Lee relax.

"I think he was a little too excited after his first hit," Kim said. "I've been through something like that. So I told him not to worry about it, and things would be OK."

The two had another encounter in the bottom of the fifth, when Kim singled and advanced to second on a follow-up hit by Jurickson Profar.

After reaching second base, Kim turned and said a few words to Lee, who was standing behind the bag.

"Jung-hoo is so mentally strong that I didn't think he'd be nervous," Kim said. "But in case he did have nerves, I tried to talk to him whenever I could and put his mind at ease."

After watching his friend play his first MLB game, Kim said he was convinced Lee would have a successful career.

"He didn't chase pitches and made good contact when he swung the bat," Kim said. "He hit that sacrifice fly in a tough spot."

Kim's only hit of the game happened to be a single to Lee in center.

"He was shading toward right center. Otherwise, I could have had a double," said Kim, who had gone 0-for-7 in the season-opening Seoul Series last week. "I was the only one without a hit on our team, and I am glad to get the first one today." (Yonhap)