Monday, May 29, 2006

A Man for All Homers

There are a lot of ways that Byung-Hyun Kim might have been remembered. He came into the majors from Korea at a time when Asian players were first experiencing widespread success, so he might have been remembered as part of that particular migration of talent. His throwing motion was unique and could have been a fond recollection for baseball fans. Kim's prodigious strikeout totals rivaled those of Billy Wagner and could have led to him being remembered as an inconsistent K specialist. These were all possibilities, but that’s not the way that it worked out.

Instead, Kim is going to go down as a pitcher who gave up more than his fair share of huge home runs. He’s turned out to be “A Man for All Homers.”

Now, there are plenty of pitchers that have gone down in the annals of baseball history for giving up the long ball. Some are known for giving up crushing game-winners (see: Mitch Williams giving up the Joe Carter home run) and others are known for serving up a milestone shot (see: Al Downing allowing Hank Aaron’s 715th homer). What makes Kim unique is that he is a member of both clubs.

Here are the memorable bombs that Kim has given up in his seven-year career:

The Tino Home Run. Let me set the scene: It is Game Four of the World Series and the Diamondbacks lead the Yankees by a score of 3-1 at The Stadium. A win puts Arizona up three games to one in the series and virtually slams the door on New York. Curt Schilling gives way to closer Byung-Hyun Kim, who gets through the eighth before serving up a two-run, two-out homer to Tino Martinez in the bottom of the ninth inning. Yankee Stadium goes crazy. Kim immediately joins the Mitch Williams Club and looks on from the mound, completely stunned.

The Jeter Home Run. Many of you already know that this blast came in the same game as the previous entry. For some reason, Bob Brenly left Kim in the game despite the fact that his closer had already thrown more than a full inning, and Kim rewarded this horrendous decision by promptly giving up a leadoff blast to Jeter that won the game for the Yankees and nearly caused Yankee Stadium to spontaneously combust.

The Brosius Home Run. This was probably the worst of the three World Series blasts that Kim allowed, because it was the number nine hitter in the order (classic Yankees, by the way, in the spirit of Bucky “F’ing” Dent and Aaron “F’ing” Boone). In case you forgot this moment, here it is again: The Diamondbacks somehow pull themselves together after the horrible Game Four loss and they ride Miguel Batista to a two-run lead in the ninth inning. Once again, Brenly goes to his frail, frightened (and now overworked) closer. Kim proceeds to give up another two-out, game-tying blast to Scott Brosius. The earth actually shakes, if just for a moment. The Yankees go on to win the game and seemingly take control of the series before Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling bail Kim out by prevailing in the desert. (This was probably the best World Series I've ever seen, by the way.)

The WBC Home Run. Just to prove that he could give up big home runs in all situations, Kim allowed a two-run home run to Japan’s Kosuke Fukudome in the seventh inning of the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, leading to Korea’s elimination from the tournament. If this feels like a letdown after the World Series blasts, I suggest you talk to some of Kim's countrymen and see how they feel.

Barry Bond’s 715th Home Run. Unless you have been under a rock for the past few days, you know that Bonds hit his controversial 715th home run on Saturday. There are a lot of interesting things about this blast – both good and bad – but to me, nothing is more amazing than the fact that Kim was the guy who gave it up. This was a home run that could best be described as “inevitable” and that was weeks in the offing, so what are the odds that good old Byung-Hyun would be the guy to finally serve it up? Had I known he was toeing the mound for the Rockies on Saturday, I would have made a beeline for Vegas and put down everything I had. This is just too ironic and too classic for words.

Ultimately, that is what I will remember about Bonds finally passing Ruth. Not that he smashed one to the deepest part of the park, not that the fans were incredibly excited about the moment, and not that the homer occurred under the “cloud of steroids.” No, what I will remember is that when the sports world needed this to be done and over with, when we all just needed Bonds to hit 715 and get it behind him, we absolutely had the right guy for the job. We had Byung-Hyun Kim, “A Man for All Homers,” on the mound.

Poor bastard.

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