It’s been quite the week for our Korean son. He celebrated his 32nd birthday a few days ago, and takes the mound as Opening Day starter later today. While I passionately advocated for Rich Hill to receive that honor, his injury makes Hyun-Jin Ryu the obvious choice. In a way, it’s justice that he’s getting the ball, for as great as he’s been since 2013, he doesn’t get nearly the love he deserves.
I am guilty of under-appreciating him myself, even though he was my favorite player on the team when this playoff era started in 2013 and 2014. His plentiful injures have admittedly pushed him out of the spotlight a lot, but when he’s healthy, it’s hard to describe him as anything but an ace.
Just because he’s often overshadowed by the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill, doesn’t mean he’s less important. We wouldn’t have six straight playoff appearances and two trips to the World Series without him. So before he commences another big year for the franchise tomorrow, it’s only fitting we take a look at some of his greatest moments from the past half-decade.
2013 – First Complete Game Shutout
There’s no one like your first. Ryu’s first major league win came on April 7 against Pittsburgh, but I’d like to spotlight his first career complete game shutout the following month against the Angels. On a perfect May evening, before the team started the 42-8 run the following month, Ryu allowed only two hits in nine innings
2013 NLCS, Game Three
After a rough first postseason outing in the NLDS against Atlanta, the pressure was on even more for the rookie in this game. The Dodgers had suffered two devastating losses in St. Louis against a Cardinals team that played baseball like Geddy Lee plays bass guitar (most infamously, Hanley’s cracked ribs at the hands of Joe Kelly in game one).
With the action now back in Los Angeles, Ryu had to deliver to get the Dodgers back in the series. To make things even worse, he was going against the steely veteran Adam Wainwright. He answered by looking like a playoff-tested veteran himself, twirling seven shutout innings and only permitting four hits in a 3-0 victory. The Cardinals didn’t even get a hit until the fifth, the only time they threatened the entire game.
More at Dodgers Nation
- Dodgers Opening Day: Official Document for School and Work
- 2019 MLB Predictions: Dodgers Nation Roundtable
- Dodgers Season Projections | Episode 47 | Blue Heaven Podcast
2014 – A Perfect Game…Almost
When it comes to Dodger pitching in 2014, Clayton Kershaw’s picturesque no-hitter dominates our recollection, followed by Josh Beckett throwing one in the final months of his career not long before. One day after Beckett twirled his no-no in May, Ryu came close not only to a no-hitter of his own, but a perfect game, against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium.
For the first seven innings, it looked like the Korean lefty would toss the first perfecto by a Dodger since Sandy Koufax in 1965. He needed a mere 82 pitches to get through those seven, reaching only one three-ball count. Unfortunately, the party was spoiled when Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a double.
While the Dodgers won the game, the disappointment of coming so close to history overshadowed that. The majesty of Kershaw’s no-hitter less than a month later no doubt has led to this game slipping through the memory hole for most. But it’s still worth remembering just how close Ryu came to the rarest form of pitching immortality.
2018 – Outdueling MadBum to Keep Division Hopes Alive
Going into the final weekend of the 2018 regular season, the Dodgers faced a relatively daunting task if they hoped to win the NL West and avoid playoff elimination altogether: three games in San Francisco. While the Giants were terrible, Phone Bank of the Day park has been a house of horrors for the Dodgers in recent years. 2018 was no exception, thanks chiefly to Andrew McCutchen’s walk-off against Wilmer Font in April.
With visions of Joe Morgan dancing in Giants fans’ heads, the stakes were upped when Madison Bumgarner insisted on pitching the first game of the series to help play spoiler. Fortunately, Ryu negated that with six brilliant innings, his only run allowed coming on a solo shot by the hated Nick Hundley. The Dodgers won 3-1, and soundly thumped their rivals the next two games to set up game 163 and another division crown.
2018 NLDS, Game One
To date, this is Ryu’s greatest moment, and a fitting antecedent to his 2019 Opening Day start. When Dave Roberts announced the Korean lefty as the game one starter over Clayton Kershaw, there was predictable hand-wringing about whether or not it was a de facto insult to the GOAT.
While Kershaw was clearly uptight about it, the rationale was still clear: Ryu pitched best at home. Any doubt about the decision to go with him in game one was quickly and soundly quieted, as he dominated the Braves for seven innings with eight strikeouts and only four hits allowed. The Dodgers won 6-0, and the tone was set for another World Series run.
Ryu is the sneaky ace that this Dodgers’ rotation needs, and he rightfully takes the spotlight on this Opening Day. Get pumped.