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[Tokyo Olympics] KBO closer thriving in middle relief for nat'l team

Cho Sang-woo of South Korea pitches against Israel in the top of the fifth inning of the teams' second-round game at the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, on Monday. (Yonhap)
Cho Sang-woo of South Korea pitches against Israel in the top of the fifth inning of the teams' second-round game at the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, on Monday. (Yonhap)
YOKOHAMA -- Lost amid South Korea's offensive outburst in an 11-1 win over Israel in the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament on Monday was yet another outstanding relief appearance by Cho Sang-woo.

The closer for the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) has been one of the most valuable middle relievers for the national team. He has pieced together 4 1/3 scoreless innings in three appearances so far, as South Korea heads into the semifinals scheduled for Wednesday.

Cho's biggest moment to date came in the top of the fifth inning on Monday. South Korea was nursing a 3-1 lead. Starter Kim Min-woo got the hook after one out in the fifth, but then Choi Won-joon created a mess by hitting and then walking a batter to load the bases.

Another walk pushed in Israel's first run. With two outs and bases still full, slugger Ryan Lavarnway, who'd homered twice against South Korea in their preliminary game last Thursday, was due up next.

Korean manager Kim Kyung-moon summoned Cho. The right-hander fell behind 3-1 in the count but jammed Lavarnway with a fastball, getting him to pop out softly to the pitcher to end the rally.

"Once I fell behind in the count, I decided to match (Lavarnway) power for power," said Cho, one of the hardest-throwing relievers in the KBO. "Things didn't exactly go the way I wanted them to, but thankfully, we got the result we wanted."

Cho said he had full trust in catcher Yang Eui-ji, and also trust in his teammates to extend the lead later in the game.

South Korea put up a seven-spot in the bottom fifth to turn a tight game into a blowout in a hurry.

"I thought we'd be ready to score a few more runs if I could get out of that jam," Cho said. "And the guys did score. It felt really good."

Cho has been the all-purpose reliever for South Korea so far. Though he's been mostly pitching in the ninth inning for his KBO club, Cho isn't a stranger to the setup role.

"I was a middle reliever only a few years ago, so pitching like this on the national team isn't a problem at all," Cho said. "When I am on the mound, I am only thinking about helping the team win." (Yonhap)
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