Hyun-Jin Ryu is used to pitching in big moments and on big stages.
Four years before being signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, the South Korean left-hander was on the mound for his home country when it defeated Cuba in the gold medal game of the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.
He added to that history in 2013, becoming the first South Korean-born pitcher in major league history to start a playoff game when he had the ball for Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.
Ryu could pass even more milestones during the Dodgers’ World Series matchup with the Boston Red Sox. He’s trying to become just the second South Korean-born player to win a World Series ring, joining Byung-Hyun Kim.
He’ll be on the hill as Los Angeles’ starter for Game 2 on Wednesday night opposite Boston’s David Price. It will be Ryu’s next opportunity to get past his recent issues pitching on the road.
Ryu had a 1.15 ERA in nine starts at home during the regular season, but it increased to 3.58 on the road. He’s also had some issues away from Dodger Stadium during this postseason.
He pitched seven shutout innings in Los Angeles against the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS. He had mixed results in his two NL Championship Series starts in Milwaukee. He pitched fine in Game 2 but got hit hard in Game 6, yielding seven hits and five earned runs in the Dodgers’ 7-2 loss.
“Obviously, it’s a stadium that I’ve pitched in the most, therefore I feel pretty comfortable pitching in Dodger Stadium. And having that run of success definitely builds more confidence,” Ryu said Tuesday through an interpreter. “I guess that’s the reason why.”
Ryu said having better command of his pitches than he did against the Brewers will be a key to success against a stacked Red Sox lineup that features Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, who became the first MLB teammates to finish first and second in batting average and slugging percentage since 1904.
“If I actually commanded my off-speed pitches to get ahead in the count, I think there would have been a different result,” Ryu said. “Obviously, tomorrow I’m going to use all the pitches I can throw.”
Fenway Park can be imposing for any pitcher, especially those pitching here for the first time.
Ryu said walking into the historic stadium and seeing the towering 37-foot Green Monster for the first time on Monday was humbling.
“When I was in Korea, I only saw Fenway Park through TV,” Ryu said. “It took me so long to actually get here at the Fenway Park. My initial reaction to the Green Monster is it’s very tall.”
Ryu is in the final season of the six-year, $36 million deal that he signed in 2013. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
While Wednesday night’s start could conceivably be his last in a Dodger uniform unless the series extends beyond four games, Ryu isn’t concerned about his future at this point.
“No, I don’t think about it at all,” he said. “My current focus right now is making sure that my team wins tomorrow’s game. So I don’t really have time to think about such things.”
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