April 1, Suwon KT Wiz Park. The KT Wiz players couldn’t smile easily amidst the cheers of a sellout crowd of 18,700 in the opening game of the 2023 KBO against the LG Twins.
The aftermath of failing to qualify for the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) was still reverberating through the KT squad.
Lee Kang-cheol, the head coach of the WBC team, suffered a major internal crisis, and Kang Baek-ho, who was accused of being a so-called “ceremonial baserunner,” could not raise his head.
Injuries followed. Kim Min-soo and Joo Ju-kwon, the core bullpen for the 2022 season, suffered shoulder and elbow injuries, while Choi Jae-dae was unable to make the opening day roster due to a fracture in the back of his left hand.
The situation became more serious day by day. Hwang Jae-gyun (fractured toe) on May 6, Kim Min-hyuk (broken finger) on May 9, and on May 11, homegrown ace Choi Soo-joon was lost for the season with a torn elbow ligament.
On top of that, new foreign pitcher Bo Schuler was sent down to the second team after a string of poor performances.
The bad news continued. Center fielder Kang Baek-ho was sidelined with a panic disorder on May 18 after he was heavily criticized for his ineffective relay play against the LG Twins.
The out-of-control situation spilled over into the rest of the squad, and KT eventually fell to the bottom of the standings.
After falling to 10th place on May 7, KT remained in last place for just one month, until June 6.
But KT hasn’t given up on 2023. They pushed on, believing that the return of their injured players would give them room to rebound.
On June 9, KT released Schuler and reacquired William Cuevas, who was out of contract last year due to injury.
Infielder Lee Ho-yeon, acquired in a trade in mid-May, has been a breath of fresh air with the bat, and veterans like Park Byung-ho and Hwang Jae-gyun have returned to anchor the center field.
Free agent signing Kim Sang-soo also contributed with a triple-digit batting average.
The organized KT went on a frightening winning streak. They surged to 15-8 in June, 13-6 in July, and swept 19 wins (and four losses) in 23 games in August when other teams collapsed due to lack of stamina.
After chipping away at the lead, KT moved into second place on Aug. 19.
The starting rotation of Cuevas, Wes Benjamin, Ko Young-pyo, Uhm Sang-baek, and Exclusion, and the backstop of Park Young-hyun and Kim Jae-yoon, could not be broken down.
Even in the final game of the regular season, at home against the Doosan Bears on Oct. 10, the Magic Legion KT rallied from a 3-4 deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning with Hwang Jae-gyun’s tying solo home run and Kang Hyun-woo’s pinch-hit single to win the game in spectacular fashion.
“It was a magical victory and a magical season,” Lee said.
KT seemed to be in a heavenly mood.
The first of the 10 clubs to play all 144 games, KT took about 20 days off to prepare for the playoffs (PO).
Almost as a regular season champion, KT was guaranteed a rest day to shake off fatigue and lingering injuries.
However, too much rest proved to be a poison, and the players were unable to show their best in the POs.
In the first game of the POs against NC Dinos, the team struggled against their starter Eric Peddie and lost 5-9, and in the second game, the team lost 2-3 after coming up empty.
The players’ bodies were too heavy. Veteran Hwang Jae-gyun made a critical error in the first game that led to a run, while Park Byung-ho made a defensive mistake that led to a run in the second game.
After dropping both Games 1 and 2 of the PO, KT refused to give up. Just as they had surged from last place to second place in June, they took Games 3 and 4 at home.
Ko Young-pyo, who suffered an injury after being hit by a pitch in the final game of the regular season, came back to pitch in Game 3, and Cuevas, who had only three days of rest after pitching in Game 1, pitched with all his might in Game 4 to shut down the NC bats.
Working their magic once again, KT tied the series at 2-2 and took the series to a fifth game.
In the fifth game of the best-of-five series, Kim Min-hyuk, who was still recovering from a hamstring injury, came up as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning after falling behind 0-2 and hit the tying run.
KT miraculously advanced to the Korean Series (KS) with a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the PO.
KT was unstoppable. In Game 1 between LG and KS, they won 3-2 thanks to a comeback by starting pitcher Ko Young-pyo and a dramatic come-from-behind hit by Moon Sang-chul with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
But that was it. The heavens smiled on LG.
KT gave up a game-tying two-run homer to Park Dong-won in the bottom of the eighth inning after taking a 4-3 lead in KS Game 2.
In the KS Game 3, KT also came up short. Leading 7-5 in the ninth inning, they gave up a game-winning three-run shot to Oh Ji-hwan and lost again.
With their minds and bodies broken, KT lost Game 4 of the KS and lost Game 5 of the KS to end the 2023 season.
It was a year of magical rise after a terrible start, only to disappear like a mirage.
However, KT’s players deserve to be applauded for not giving up and giving it everything they had, which is the epitome of sportsmanship. The Magic Corps continued to warm the hearts of baseball fans this year.
KT is now preparing for the next edition. There are more than a few areas that need to be strengthened.
Choi Yoo-seong will be enlisted in the military this winter, and Choi Min-joon may not return until late next year after undergoing elbow ligament splicing surgery.
Closer Kim Jae-yoon, who recorded 32 regular-season saves this year, is a free agent. It’s not the only team salivating.
They also have to deal with an aging infield of players in their mid-30s. There’s no time for tears. There’s a lot of work to be done. 파워볼사이트