He’s been on the mound with shaky pitches, and even his trademark composure has been shaken. But Oh Seung-hwan (41-Samsung Lions) is proving that class is forever.
Samsung manager Park Jin-man (47) said before the 2023 Shinhan Bank SOL KBO League game against the Lotte Giants at Sajik Baseball Stadium in Busan on Wednesday, “It’s great that Oh Seung-hwan is still throwing until now. As he gets older, he compensates for his deficiencies with other things and continues to do so.”
Seung-hwan Oh has had a season full of twists and turns this season. As of March 3, he has appeared in 55 games this season, posting a record of 4-5, 28 saves, two shutouts, and a 3.64 ERA. These are good numbers for a 41-year-old pitcher, but not impressive considering the stage of his career. However, Seung-hwan Oh has regained his composure as of late after a rough first half.
After a shaky start to the season, Seung-hwan was moved from the closer’s role to the middle innings. But when that didn’t work out, he made his first start in 18 years and 621 KBO games on May 3 against Daegu Kiwoom. He pitched five innings of five-hit ball (one home run) with six strikeouts and three earned runs, but it was a one-off appearance and he was sent back to the bullpen after being recalled from the second team.
Then, in June, he was put back into save situations, but on June 16 against the Suwon KT, he showed an uncharacteristically angry reaction to his nickname, throwing down his glove after being hit by a pitch. Eventually, after a meeting with Park, he was sent back down to the second team. In 26 games in the first half of the season, he posted a 2-3 record with 10 saves and a 4.80 ERA.
After the All-Star break, however, it was a different story. In August, he had a 10-save month, and in September, he pitched much better with a 1.04 ERA. In a doubleheader against Lotte on September 2, he earned saves in both games, including a multi-inning (1⅓ innings) save in game one and a stellar effort in game two. In the second half of the season, Oh has 18 saves and a 2.45 ERA, and his batting average has dropped to 0.187 from 0.298 in the first half.
Park was surprised by Oh’s doubleheader saves, saying, “The ball looked better from the side in game two than in game one.” “I told him to be aggressive because we have a good chance of winning even if we are confident,” Park said, explaining that he personally went up to the mound in Game 2 and told Seung-hwan. The fact that he was able to pitch two games in one day and then come back in the later game shows that he is still in good shape.
“He’s been getting saves lately, but it’s been a little lacking for a while,” Park said of Oh’s resurgence since September, adding, “I think he’s been resting and recharging well.” In fact, it took him 18 days after his 24th save of the season against Doosan in Jamsil on September 9 to get his next one (against Hanwha in Daejeon on September 27), with only two games in between. “Recently, he has been accumulating wins by making clean saves in winning games,” Park said.
Park has known Oh since he was a rookie. Signed as a free agent in 2005, Park watched Seung-hwan pitch from the shortstop’s position and faced him as an opposing hitter after he joined the SK Wyverns (now the SSG Landers) in 2011. Nicknamed “the national shortstop,” Park has played with Seung-hwan in many international competitions, including the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC) and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.캡틴토토
He was surprised to see his junior still playing 18 years after joining the team. “It’s amazing,” says Park. “As you get older, your senses and strength are bound to decline,” Park said, “but he’s been making up for it with other things. After averaging 93.5 mph (150.5 km/h) on his fastball in 2016, his last year in the Major Leagues, Park’s velocity has dropped to 144.1 mph this season (per Baseball-Reference.com), but he’s been making changes, including throwing more of his curveball, which he rarely threw in his prime.
Now, Oh is closing in on a milestone that no one else in KBO history has accomplished. 400 career saves in the league. In the long history of Major League Baseball, only eight pitchers have 400 saves, including Mariano Rivera (652). After starting 2005 with 16 saves, Rivera took his role as a closer seriously the following year with a KBO league record 47 saves. He has won the save title six times, including three consecutive years (2006-2008), and has 398 career saves as of today.
No one is expected to break Oh’s record anytime soon. Everyone from Son Seung-rak (271 saves) to Koo Dae-sung (214 saves) have retired, and there is a double gap between him and second-place finisher Jung Woo-ram (Hanwha, 197 saves). Go Woo-seok (LG), who is still only 25, has 139 saves, but there are variables such as going overseas.
“I’m probably desensitized to such records because I’m from the Yasoo, but 100 saves is an award, and 400 saves is really great,” Park admired. “Since I’m managing it steadily, I think I’ll continue to accumulate saves and set my sights on 400 saves,” he added.