IF HYUN-JIN RYU pitched regularly in New York, he would soon be the sensation that basketball player Jeremy Lin was for the Knicks last year.
Jinsanity! Can’t you hear it now?
Citi Field in Flushing Meadows would be packed. The face of the 26-year-old pitching phenom would be on tee-shirts, plastered over the tabloids and marketed across America.
It may still. But it will come out of Los Angeles where the Dodgers’ South Korean lefthander may yet become the toast of baseball, transcending ethnic pride the way Fernando-mania did a generation ago.
“Hadouken!” fans will be yelling after Ryu’s strikeouts like when the Street Fighter video game player throws a fireball.
For who would have ever known that three weeks into the season, the Dodgers most dependable pitcher would be Hyun-Jin Ryu, the import who in his own way could become to ace Clayton Kershaw what Don Drysdale was to Sandy Koufax in that heyday when there was no offense to speak of and the Dodgers existed on pitching and prayers.
Of course, it has become that way today, too, with absentee Dodger bats failing to take much pressure off a pitching staff that is having to be retooled in the early weeks of the season.
On Thursday, Ryu didn’t figure in the decision of the Dodgers’ 3-2 victory over the Mets, but he was the reason they were able to win the third game of the series and fly back to Los Angeles after an unremarkable road trip that made as much news for the injury report as for the quality of baseball on the field.
Ryu pitched seven strong innings, giving up only three hits while striking out eight. He gave up his only run in the bottom of the sixth inning but came back to shut the Mets down in order in the seventh.
“He told us he could do it — It’s a big win for us,” Dodger skipper Don Mattingly said of Ryu going out for the seventh inning and giving the team’s recently taxed bullpen a badly-needed break.
What there was of a Dodgers offense amounted to Matt Kemp, who appears to have gotten himself out of the early season slump. His first homer of the season on Wednesday night was wasted in that loss, but Kemp returned Thursday with an RBI single in the first inning and scoring what amounted to the deciding run in the top of the ninth inning.
Andre Ethier singled home Nick Punto with the first run of the inning, and Kemp scored on Juan Uribe’s infield single.
Offensively, Kemp appears back. He was 11-for-24 (.458) with five RBIs on the six-game road trip, raising his season average to .266. Mark Ellis, who has had the hottest bat lately, was given the day off.
But the story of the game was undoubtedly Ryu, who was cheered on by a larger than usual contingent of Koreans who attended the game — which Ryu called “a big strength for my pitching.”
“I was aware there are a lot of Korean Americans here in New York,” Ryu told ESPN through a translator. “It was definitely encouragement.”
So, coming next to Dodger Stadium