For Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin, getting to start this week's All-Star Game in Cleveland isn't just a big deal for himself.
"Starting the All-Star Game is an honor for my family, and I think it's going to be a special day back home in South Korea," Ryu said at a press conference at Huntington Convention Center on Monday, the eve of the Midsummer Classic. "It's definitely a great occasion. This feels like being in the postseason, because starting pitchers get to sit here and have pregame interviews only during the playoffs."
With a 10-2 record and a major league-low 1.73 ERA at the break, Ryu has been "the best pitcher in the National League," said Dave Roberts, Ryu's Dodgers manager who will also be the skipper for the NL team at Progressive Field. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (local time), or 8:30 a.m. Wednesday (South Korea time).
Roberts picked Ryu to pitch the first inning of the All-Star Game more than a week ahead of the press conference, where managers typically announce their starting pitchers, and helped his own left-hander make history as the first South Korean pitcher to start an All-Star Game.
Ryu had been a perennial All-Star with the Hanwha Eagles in the Korea Baseball Organization from 2006 to 2012, before signing a six-year deal with the Dodgers as the first South Korean to jump directly from the KBO to the majors.
And finally getting the All-Star nod in America still hadn't hit Ryu yet on Monday.
"When I first arrived in the United States, I never imagined I'd ever come to this spot," said Ryu, who's scheduled to work just one inning. "I came to America just to play baseball. This is a huge honor."
Speaking with South Korean reporters after the presser, Ryu said he'll try to make quick work of the American League lineup in the first inning. Ryu said he won't go extra hard just because he will only pitch the first inning and said his approach won't be much different from his regular season outing.
"I hope I can take care of business in the top half of the order and not let guys near the bottom come to the plate," Ryu said. "I'll trust my pitching coach to help me with my preparation."
Ryu will face the starting lineup of George Springer (Houston Astros), DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees), Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels), Carlos Santana (Cleveland Indians), J.D. Martinez (Boston Red Sox), Alex Bregman (Astros), Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Michael Brantley (Astros) and Jorge Polanco (Minnesota Twins). The Astros' right-hander Justin Verlander will start opposite Ryu on the mound.
Trout is widely considered the best player of this generation, but Ryu has had his number. The two-time AL MVP is hitless in 10 at-bats against Ryu with four strikeouts.
Among others, LeMahieu has been 2-for-16 against Ryu when the two faced each other in the NL West while the second baseman was playing for the Colorado Rockies. Martinez is a career 2-for-7 with a double against the left-hander. Brantley doesn't have a hit in three career at-bats versus Ryu, while Santana has gone 1-for-3.
Springer, Bregman, Sanchez and Polanco have never faced Ryu before. (Yonhap)