Seunghwan Oh entered and the good swings stopped. That's how it usually went during Oh's seven-year professional career in Asia, when he emerged as one of the world's best relief pitchers, and how it often went during his rookie season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016.
So in a way, his game-saving performance in Korea's 11-8 win vs. Chinese Taipei on Thursday in the World Baseball Classic was really just more of the same. But ordinary becomes extraordinary when the stakes rise, and the high-stakes world of late-inning relief is where Oh lives and thrives.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Given the circumstances, the stakes were as high as they could have been when Korea manager In-Sik Kim summoned Oh in the ninth inning Thursday. Playing mostly for pride and to avoid having to qualify for the next World Baseball Classic, neither Korea nor Chinese Taipei began the day with any chance of advancing to the tournament's next round.
But the game was still on the line. Korea's early six-run lead had disappeared completely by the time Chinese Taipei third baseman Chih-Hsien Chiang led off the ninth with a double against Hyun-seung Lee. Now Chaing danced off second with no out, the potential winning run that could send Korea home from the tournament with an embarrassing 0-3 record.
"In the ninth inning, I think we had a very good chance," said Chinese Taipei coach Fu-Lien Wu, who met with the media since manager Tai-Yuan Kuo was ejected. "However, the closer of the Team Korea performed really well. He is an outstanding pitcher."
Kim called on Oh, the team's closer, for a non-save but essential situation. Instead of waiting for a lead that might never have come, Kim opted to use his best reliever for the outs he needed most, more in the vein of how closers have been used in recent Major League postseasons. Oh responded by recorded three dominating outs, sandwiching an intentional walk between two strikeouts and inducing a harmless fly to escape the jam.
"I sent Oh to the mound earlier than I expected," Kim said. "I'm sorry for him, because he pitched for two innings."
Korea, playing as the away team in front of a raucous home crowd at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, scored three runs in the top of the 10th to turn Oh into the winning pitcher.
Oh sealed the win with a 1-2-3 10th to complete his third World Baseball Classic. Oh threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings across two tournament outings, striking out six. He allowed just one hit and now returns to the United States to prepare for a second season as the Cardinals' closer.
"I thanked him for the victory," Kim said.