In the sixth inning of his greatly anticipated major league debut, Hyun-Jin Ryu was booed at home after he loafed to first base on a groundout.
Minutes later, Ryu received a partial standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium faithful as he departed with the Dodgers trailing in what became a 3-0 loss to the rival Giants.
That summed up Tuesday night for the most celebrated pitcher to come from Korea in more than 20 years: not great, not awful, but oddly memorable and – above all – quite promising.
Statistically speaking, the results were mixed: Ryu allowed 10 hits but only one earned run in 6 1/3 innings, thanks to three well-timed double plays. A skeptic would say Ryu was lucky to escape trouble so often. I, for one, think the left-hander showed Buehrle-esque savvy despite lacking an effective curveball.
“A guy that knows what he’s doing,” manager Don Mattingly said, in a tone that suggested he will be able to trust Ryu without necessarily understanding his methods.
We should be careful not to draw too many conclusions from one start, but the Dodgers can take heart in one undeniable truth: Ryu isn’t in awe of his new competition – not even the defending World Series champions from San Francisco.
“I told him I was proud of him, and I love the way he threw the ball tonight,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis recalled, when asked about his conversation with Ryu after he exited the game. “To me, the greatest thing about Ryu is nothing overwhelms him. [Pitching coach] Rick Honeycutt and I were talking about how some guys get intimidated by the fifth deck when you come into a major league stadium. This guy’s pitched in the WBC. He’s pitched in the Olympics. He never seems like he’s stressed.
“One thing I have to keep reminding myself and keep reminding guys is that this guy was the greatest player in his entire country. That’s something nobody over here can say, outside of maybe the guy who pitched yesterday for us [Clayton Kershaw]. He’s really special. And he’s going to have a great major league career. I’m just happy to say I was at the start of it.”
It was almost exactly one year ago – April 9, 2012 – that another pitcher made his major league debut after a distinguished career in Asia: Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish.
On one level, Ryu and Darvish are dissimilar pitchers: Ryu is a Korean left-hander, Darvish a Japanese right-hander. But while South Korea and Japan are very different places, players – especially pitchers – from those countries must make similar adjustments when they come to the U.S. The culture, the language, the pitching schedule, the mounds, the ballparks – even the baseballs are different.