CLEVELAND -- Kwang Hyun Kim has been an excellent addition for the Cardinals. Coming over from the Korean Baseball Organization, the veteran lefty has made a solid transition to the States. He has assimilated wonderfully and been a reliable rotation weapon for a St. Louis team ravaged by injuries. He even had a 24-inning scoreless streak recently.
We start with all that fun and flowery stuff as a means of softening the harsh reality about what happened Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field: Kim got drilled. He served up four home runs, and the Cardinals fell, 7-2, in the finale of a quick two-game split against the Indians.
To make matters worse, the Cards lost Nolan Arenado to injury when he was plunked in the right forearm by a Zach Plesac fastball in the fifth, though that bruise does not appear serious.
What was serious was the battering taken by Kim, who prior to this start had been having a fantastic July.
“It’s always the battle of pitcher and hitter,” Kim said through interpreter Craig Choi. “As a pitcher, I have to keep the hitter off-balance. Today, I wasn’t successful with that. ... Just a bad performance by me.”
It was a lovely summer day for a stroll in downtown Cleveland, and, unfortunately for Kim and the Cardinals, the Tribe batters took Mother Nature up on it. They clobbered Kim with their home run parade, led by two monster shots from Franmil Reyes. Cleveland’s right fielder hit 867 combined feet of dingers, including a second-inning solo shot that landed outside the building, on Gateway Plaza, nearly decapitating a guy on a bicycle.
Did we mention that Kim is a really affable fellow who is beloved in the clubhouse?
OK, just wanted to put that out there, because, on this day, he was over the heart of the plate, up in the zone. Basically, anywhere a pitcher does not want to be.
“One of the first things you look at is where the ball’s going early,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “He wasn’t able to get the ball on the ground. His velocity was down a tick. ... He just lived up top too much and it was in the air a lot.”
To put things in perspective, Kim gave up as many homers in the third inning of this game as he gave up in 39 innings in the entirety of 2020.
And here’s more perspective: Kim gave up four homers without striking anybody out. Only two other Cardinals pitchers in history have done that, and both were long, long ago -- Johnny Stuart (June 22, 1925, vs. the Pirates) and Ken Burkhart (Aug. 16, 1947, vs. the Pirates).
With Monday’s off-day, Kim’s between-starts bullpen session was moved to Tuesday, a day before this start. But he had an identical arrangement two starts prior and pitched wonderfully against the Giants, so he wasn’t using the altered schedule as an excuse.
“I know I didn’t perform well, and that resulted in a loss for the team,” Kim said. “Next time, I have to be in a better condition to give the team a chance to win.”
The Cards had given Kim an early advantage with a two-out, two-strike RBI single from Yadier Molina in the first, and, after Reyes’ first homer, they regained the lead with a lovely solo swat from Dylan Carlson in the third that made it 2-1.
But the trio of long balls off the bats of Cesar Hernandez, José Ramírez and Reyes in the bottom of the third made it 5-2 and basically buried Kim, who did not make it out of the inning. The Indians tacked on two more runs against Justin Miller in the fourth, and St. Louis never got back in the ballgame.
The unscheduled round of Home Run Derby was a setback for a Cardinals club that had won seven of its previous 10 games and is fighting tooth and nail to stay in the NL playoff picture.
“Clearly, we would have liked to get one today and get another one over in Cincinnati [last weekend], no question,” Shildt said. “But seven out of 10, if we do that the rest of the year, we’d be pretty happy.”